Monday, March 2, 2020

The Riders Ride Once More

Riders of the Purple Sage is the first opera that I have seen a second time. I caught Arizona Opera's world premiere of it three years ago and was quite happy to see it coming back again this season. (Click here to read that original post.) Essentially it was the same production, with perhaps some adjustments to the sets. So I have already talked about the music, Ed Mell's artwork, and the themes.

The question is, how does this opera appear on a repeat viewing? Was it just exciting because it was different (a Western opera)? Was it just beautiful because of the moving-painting-screen backdrop? Sure, those are great, but no, there is something more to this piece that made it a pleasure to revisit.

My favorite part remains Jane's song at the beginning of Act II. That is this opera. It is the extension of the self over the landscape. It is the absorption of the beauty all around and the expression of the harshness--and the vocalized resolution to embrace that which is good. The Southwest makes for such a great fictional setting because it is a land rich with color, texture, and life, and yet it is also a land that is deadly if you take a wrong step. That delicate way of walking is essentially the way that Jane tries to walk, believing so strongly in her faith and yet realizing that the very churchmen who claim to uphold it in her community are not living out love and faith.

So that is what makes Rider of the Purple Sage a lovely piece to revisit. Its embracing of the Southwest is enough to make it an anthem for Arizona Opera. But its way of capturing that duality of the desert makes it into the anthem for Arizona (or the Southwest) as a whole.

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