The first musical moments of Riders of the Purple Sage charge out of the gate: lofty horns, pounding drums and a big, sprawling score that has you expecting The Magnificent Seven.
Craig Bohmler, who composed the music for Arizona Opera’s upcoming adaptation of the celebrated Zane Grey novel, says that’s the idea.
“The first minute and a half, we let the audience know they’re in a Western,” he says, air-conducting a recording from his Scottsdale studio. “They haven’t been to a Western opera before. So we give ‘em a nod to the West they know. We give ‘em some tunes. They say, ‘Okay, I like these tunes!’ And THEN… we challenge them!”
How that challenge unfolds – and what it will look like – is still a work in progress. In the play Amadeus, Mozart creates operas “as if taking dictation from God.” In real life, the process is more human and collaborative. “People think opera is a single art form,” Riders soprano Karin Wolverton says. “It’s really about 20 art forms smashed together.”
Last year, Arizona Opera unveiled its plans for the production, its first world premiere and the first opera written by an American living in the Western United States. As Riders’ February 2017 opening date approaches, designers, directors, writers and performers converge to hone the work inside and out. They will smash their best creative ideas together, in the hope of producing a diamond when the curtain rises.
Galloping Toward Opening Night
At this writing, Riders’ creative artists are still sharing, and sparring with, their individual ideas. The road between here and next spring – when Bohmler’s overture leaps from the orchestra pit for real – will be fraught with to-do lists, design conferences, conceptual struggles and creative fix-its.
But that’s exactly where Riders’ creative team wants to be. That’s their Surprise Canyon, where all the wonderful things come together.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Wolverton says. “Opera is expensive and difficult to do, so you want to get it right. Then, people will walk away from this production saying, ‘Wow. That was amazing.’”
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