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Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera Does Zane Grey Proud


A Western Dime Novel Called Riders of the Purple Sage

Movies about the old West have a long history in America, and partly that comes from a stylized and idealized version of what the times were really like. But any fan of “the old West” who said they had never read a rip-roaring yarn about such times is probably not telling the truth. Maybe it’s a fear of being considered foolish or childish, but don’t forget there was a time when the dime novel (actual stories printed in a paperback-like sized book) captured the hearts and minds of countless numbers of Americans. Granted this was in the early 1900s and the stories spanned the imagination from spy thrillers to masked avengers and beyond, but stories about the old West were always present.

One such story in 1912, “Riders of the Purple Sage” grew Zane Grey’s popularity world-wide as it promoted the Western genre and in many ways shaped it in the minds of those of that time and those moving forward. In fact it is now recognized as one of the “One Hundred Books That Shaped America” by the U.S. Library of Congress. The story, to condense and not give away anything because it’s a darn good read and worth reading, involves 3 main characters, all whom are struggling in one fashion or another with the persecution arising from the local Mormon community in the made-up town of Cottonwoods, Utah. But besides the human drama, Riders is filled to the brim with what could now be considered Hollywood staples of the old West: that being gunfights and cattle rustling and living to a self-imposed code of conduct.


A Storm, A Composer and A Cabin

So with that in mind, how did a DVD entitled “Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making Of A Western Opera come to be? So a classical trained composer by the name of Craig Bohmler comes into the story some 100 years after the novel first appeared. For reasons unknown and beyond the scope of our understanding, he ends up taking shelter from a storm in a cabin that just so happens to have belonged to Zane Grey and is covered wall to ceiling with old posters from the many westerns he helped to turn into Hollywood movies. And from this unexpected happenstance, Bohmler decides that what is lacking, what is needed, is to give Riders the grandiose it deserves, because it is like an opera. He decides he will bring Riders to the operatic stage and so begins a process of calling up professionals of all types — designers, musicians, singers and a fine art painter, so as to transform and transmogrify Riders Of The Purple Sage from the cowboy culture of the West into the realm of Puccini and Verdi.


Premiere of An Opera

So for what happens next requires us to rewind the past, as the opera premiered in 2017, which is made possible through the eyes of Kristin Atwell Ford’s documentary and what is now found on this DVD. We get to watch in this documentary how all of the elements of a musical theater piece come together — going from initial conception to the final staged products. Along the way, artistic and technical insights are gleaned and placed into their proper “boxes” so as to further the goal of a realized event and having this “behind the scenes” and “fly on the wall” ability to watch becomes engrossing. Certainly this would be true of any staged event but in Riders we’re getting the efforts of many to bridge the centuries and feelings that such a story made manifest. And of course those who know the genre well, along with those who are now getting a first hand look at how the thoughts and express feelings that a writer wished to convey can now be made into reality, become tangible for viewing.

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Technically speaking, the quality of the DVD is fine, with the sharpness and resolution necessary for conveying the backgrounds which dot the production. Color is crisp and without smearing. As to the sound, the Dolby Audio provides the proper soundstage for the music and for the clarity for the voices both on and off the production although optional subtitles in English are available.

Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making Of A Western Opera can be played on any DVD player (or of course a Blu-ray or 4K player). Further details can be had at

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