Riders of the Purple Sage: 4 Takeaways from the Arizona Opera World Premiere

Work by Phoenix artist Ed Mell is featured in Riders of the Purple Sage at Arizona Opera.EXPAND
Work by Phoenix artist Ed Mell is featured in Riders of the Purple Sage at Arizona Opera.
Courtesy of Arizona Opera

Riders of the Purple Sage, a world premiere from Arizona Opera, opens in Phoenix today and plays through the weekend at Symphony Hall. The opera is based on the best-selling 1912 novel of the same name by Zane Grey, with music by Craig Bohmler, lyrics by Steven Mark Kohn, and stunning sets of Southwestern landscapes by artist Ed Mell. Here are four takeaways from last Sunday's performance in Tucson:

Zane Grey took on Mormons before The Book of Mormon made them lovable lugs.
Zane Grey took on Mormons before The Book of Mormon made them lovable lugs.
Andrew Rannells

Mormons are not going to like this.
Mormons were good sports when The Book of Mormon became a smash. But the missionaries in the script by Trey Parker and Matt Stone were lovable losers; the Mormons in Zane Grey's book are very sore losers. So sore, in fact, that movie versions of the book often ignored the fact that the original villains of the story are Mormons at all.

Riders tells the story of Jane Withersteen.EXPAND
Riders tells the story of Jane Withersteen.
Tim Trumble

This may be the only opera where people boo during the curtain call.
The Tucson audience didn't boo everyone, of course: just the bad Mormons who tried to run heroine Jane Withersteen off her land, which made the curtain call seem more like a response to a Tombstone melodrama than a serious opera.

Morgan Smith as Lassiter in Arizona Opera's Riders of the Purple Sage.EXPAND
Morgan Smith as Lassiter in Arizona Opera's Riders of the Purple Sage.
Tim Trumble

Singing cowboys are wimps, not warriors.
Tough-guy Lassiter, who's tamed by Withersteen, earned a standing ovation. They may have made beautiful music together, but you could barely hear Lassiter over the enthusiastic orchestra. Leave the cowboy singing to Gene Autry; we like the strong, silent types.

Rendering for the set of Arizona Opera's Riders of the Purple Sage.EXPAND
Rendering for the set of Arizona Opera's Riders of the Purple Sage.
Arizona Opera

The real star? The scenery.
The sets by famed artist Ed Mell are almost as spectacular as the scenery they depict, and real technological marvels. Although there are many reasons to see Riders of the Purple Sage, the sets alone are worth the price of admission.

For tickets to Riders of the Purple Sage (if any are left), go to azopera.org.

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