Though opera is a form of music not often enjoyed in Kane County, many residents will be surprised that Winsor Castle at Pipe Spring National Monument was an inspiration for Riders of the Purple Sage, a brand-new opera about the Old West, commissioned by Arizona Opera, and presented in Tucson and Phoenix earlier this year

The new opera was adapted from Zane Grey’s iconic novel, Riders of the Purple Sage, through music and words by composer Craig Bohmler with libretto by Steven Mark Kohn.

When the opera was still in its infancy, Zane Grey’s West Society member Ed Meyer contacted Kristin Atwell Ford with an invitation to visit the Kanab area to see the locations that inspired much of Grey’s novel. Ford is the co-producer of the opera and an Emmy award-winning documentarian. She is currently in the final stages of producing a new documentary entitled Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera.

Ford accepted Meyer’s invitation and toured locations with Kelly Stowell, Director of the Kane County Film Commission. Joining her were Craig Bohmler, composer, Steven Mark Kohn, librettist, Fenlon Lamb, director, and Ford’s camera crew.

Included in the tour was a visit to Winsor Castle, which almost exactly matched Zane’s description of the novel’s famous Withersteen. Ford states, “Without Ed’s research and his time and effort, we would have missed a key part of the story! I was delighted to connect this important theatrical piece to the actual history of the Arizona Strip and the Mormon migration. Kelly was an amazing host as he showed places we’d have never found on our own and facilitated interviews.”

Meyer adds, “Many people along the Utah-Arizona border know Zane Grey’s name, but don’t realize how much their ancestors and places right in their backyard influenced the most famous writer of the 20th Century during his visits in 1907 and 1908.”

Ford’s visit resulted in famous Arizona artist Ed Mell incorporating Winsor Castle as the single most important element of his set design.

Bohmler’s new opera played to sold out houses and thunderous applause. Opera Sense, a national opera publication, reviewed it, “Few things in the opera world can compare to the excitement surrounding a world premiere, so the atmosphere is electrifying. Audience members witness history in the making: the first American Western Opera, Riders of the Purple Sage.”

Kristin Atwell Ford will present excerpts from her new documentary at the Zane Grey’s West Society Convention to be held June 19-22, in Kanab. The community can learn more about her work and Zane Grey though the Zane Grey’s West Society website: zgws.org.