Arizona Opera’s electrifying premiere of the new American opera “Riders of the Purple Sage” will be released for broadcast nationally on Nov. 25, 2017. As part of the American Opera Series, the broadcast will be heard in more than 370 markets, on more than 60 stations throughout the United States. Additionally, the broadcast will be distributed internationally to the European Broadcasting Union, making it available to more than 50 national broadcasters around Europe for broadcasts during 2018.
Based on the best-selling Western novel by Zane Grey, and composed by Craig Bohmler with a libretto by Steven Mark Kohn, “Riders of the Purple Sage” was given its world premiere by Arizona Opera in February 2017. The production was recorded by Arizona PBS’ Central Sound production team.
“It’s a delight for us to share such a vital new opera with international audiences and listeners across the United States through our American Opera Series,” says WFMT Radio Network Director, Tony Macaluso. “This is a unique opportunity to bring to radio stations and their listeners the historical American West and this iconic novel through a new score.”
Unprecedented in its regional authenticity, “Riders of the Purple Sage” tells a powerful story of strength and redemption through love, loss and breathtaking adventure across the sweeping vistas of the American Southwest. The opera broadcast features soprano Laura Wilde, praised by Opera News as having “a ravishingly beautiful sound [and] a fine sense of style and character,” as the fiercely independent heroine, Jane Withersteen. Baritone Joshua Jeremiah, who has sung with New York City Opera, Seattle Opera and Glimmerglass Opera, performs as the gunslinger Lassiter, with tenor Joshua Dennis as ranch hand Bern Venters, soprano Amanda Opuszynski as the unwilling cattle rustler Bess, bass-baritone Kristopher Irmiter as Bishop Dyer and baritone Keith Phares as Elder Tull.
Follow the struggles of devout Mormon rancher Jane Withersteen as she resists the advances of Tull and defends her riders, her land and her herd with the help of mysterious gunman Lassiter. Ranch hand Venters and his beloved Bess join Withersteen and Lassiter on their quest for a missing girl as they try to evade pursuit and find their own earthly paradise.
“Riders of the Purple Sage” was commissioned by Arizona Opera as part of its ongoing commitment to reaching new audiences and engaging Arizona in new ways through the beauty and power of opera. “‘Riders’ connected with our community so meaningfully. I think that’s what excited people most. ‘Riders’ is a piece that really pulled us forward as an organization, and opened our art form to new folks in a vibrant and thrilling way,” says Arizona Opera President and General Director Joseph Specter. “We’re excited about the opportunity to share this premiere with the world as we’re featured for the first time in WFMT’s national broadcast series alongside Lyric Opera of Chicago, LA Opera and San Francisco Opera.”
The production was directed by Fenlon Lamb, and conductor Joseph Mechavich led the Arizona Opera Orchestra and Chorus with chorus director Henri Venanzi. Scenery for “Riders of the Purple Sage” was created by renowned Arizona artist, Ed Mell, whose vibrant contemporary landscapes brought the sweeping canyons and desert vistas of Arizona to life.
Prize-winning Arizona composer Craig Bohmler has written seven musicals and three operas, including the Olivier Award-nominated “Enter the Guardsman,” which won the International Musical of the Year Competition; “The Achilles Heel,” commissioned and premiered by Houston Grand Opera; “Gunmetal Blues” (winner of ASCAP and Dramatist Guild awards); and “The Quiltmaker’s Gift” for Phoenix Theatre.
Bohmler, who studied with iconic American opera composer Carlisle Floyd, stumbled upon Zane Grey’s historic cabin and museum during a hiking trip in northern Arizona and subsequently fell in love with Grey’s best-selling classic 1912 novel “Riders of the Purple Sage.” Set in the Utah Territory circa 1870, Bohmler’s lushly thematic score – paired with Steven Mark Kohn’s libretto – is reminiscent of classic Hollywood westerns.
Billie Jo and Judd Herberger were Executive Producers of Arizona Opera’s production of “Riders of the Purple Sage,” with generous funding from Dr. Rex and Arlyn Brewster and Frieda Elizabeth Reish. Additional support was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The “Riders of the Purple Sage” radio broadcast is a presentation of Classical Arizona PBS, a part of Arizona State University. “We’re excited to partner with Arizona Opera in producing this broadcast production, exemplifying the exceptional arts in our region to listeners around the globe,” says Alex Kosiorek, executive producer of the radio broadcast.
Hosted by Naomi Lewin, the “Riders of the Purple Sage” broadcast will air in three parts and will include interviews with soprano Laura Wilde, composer Craig Bohmler and librettist Steven Mark Kohn. The broadcast will be distributed by the WFMT Radio Network to international broadcasters via the European Broadcasting Union, and to radio stations in the United States via its American Opera Series.
In Greater Phoenix, the “Riders of the Purple Sage” broadcast will be available at 11 a.m. (local time) on November 25, 2017 at 89.5 KBAQ or https://kbaq.org/ as well as in surround-sound on DTV 8.5, Classical Arizona PBS.
The broadcast will also be available through the TuneIn mobile app or online at https://tunein.com/radio/Classical-Music-(KBAQ)-p2660/. Additionally, extended interviews and pictures will be available via the Classical Arizona PBS mobile app.
Find more information about WFMT’s American Opera Series at https://radionetwork.wfmt.com/programs/american-opera-series/.
Find more information about Riders of the Purple Sage national syndication via the American Opera Series at
Find more information about composer Craig Bohmler at www.craigbohmler.com.
For more information about author Zane Grey, visit Zane Grey’s West Society at www.zgws.org.
About Arizona Opera:
Founded in 1971, Arizona Opera is the state’s professional opera company, producing fully-staged opera performances in Phoenix and Tucson, as well as in-school touring productions and community programs that reach more than 70,000 schoolchildren and adults across the state each year.
Since its inception Arizona Opera has mounted more than 200 fully-staged productions, ranging from beloved grand opera, to operetta and musical theater, and is among a select group of American opera companies to produce Richard Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle. In recent years, the company has embraced new artistic initiatives designed to present new, dynamic operatic work alongside beloved, traditional pieces each season, as it seeks to expand audience experiences, and broaden and deepen its impact and connection with its community.
About Arizona PBS:
Arizona PBS is a trusted community resource. For more than 55 years the PBS station has focused on educating children, reporting in-depth on public affairs, fostering lifelong learning, and celebrating arts and culture. Arizona PBS achieves its mission through the power of noncommercial television, the internet, educational outreach and community-based initiatives. Its signal reaches 80 percent of the homes in Arizona. With more than 1 million viewers weekly Arizona PBS consistently ranks among the most-viewed public television stations per capita in the country. For more information visit azpbs.org or follow Arizona PBS on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr.
About the WFMT Radio Network:
The WFMT Radio Network is a Chicago-based non-profit creator and distributor of radio programs and other audio about arts and culture that are made available to hundreds of radio stations around the world. The WFMT Radio Network has worked for decades with some of the most admired arts organizations in the world such as Carnegie Hall, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Jazz Festival, Edinburgh Festival, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York Philharmonic, Poetry Foundation, San Francisco Symphony, Shanghai Symphony and many others. The Network also produces original programs such as the Beethoven and Jazz Networks, Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin, Relevant Tones, Fiesta!, The Midnight Special, manages important audio collections such as the Studs Terkel Radio Archive and is producing the new podcast Breaking Glass in partnership with the Glimmerglass Festival. As a member of the European Broadcasting Union and other international radio organizations, the WFMT Radio Network also works with many of the leading national radio systems of Europe and Asia. For more information, visit wfmtradionetwork.com.
Photo by Tim Trumble/Courtesy Arizona Opera.