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The Sunday Opera: Douglas Moore's "The Ballad of Baby Doe" with Beverly Sills

The stage is set for another opera in English on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/18 3:00 p.m.) and the premier recording of Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe.”

With an original libretto by John Latouche, the story centers around the life of Elizabeth “Baby” Doe (Beverly Sills) who becomes the second wife of Horace Tabor (Walter Cassel) who was one of the richest men in Leadville, CO in the 19th century. The opera was written through a commission by the Koussevitsky Foundation of the Library of Congress to commemorate the bicentennial of Columbia University where Moore was on the faculty. Moore’s enjoyably melodic score is firmly based in the American idiom and includes telling references to the folk music he obviously loved.

Horace’s wealth came from his silver mine, and with it, he owns most of Leadville including the opera house sporting his name. Horace falls in love with the much younger Baby, and both of them leave their respective spouses to be together. Horace’s wife, Augusta (Frances Bible) who vows to ruin him. Augusta doesn’t have to worry, however, as the country’s shift to the gold standard will take care of that. In brief, Horace’s health and mind fail, and he dies in Baby’s arms. She lives on, and the opera ends 30 years later with Baby mourning Horace at the adit of his shuttered silver mine as she slowly freezes to death in an incredibly moving coda.

The recording to which we’ll be listening comes from 1958 and is the cast from the New York City Opera production. Other members of the cast include Bearice Krebs, Lynda Jordan, Joshua Hecht, Jack DeLon, Grant Williams, Lynn Taussig, and Helen Baisley. They’re joined by the New York City Opera Chorus and Orchestra with Emerson Buckley conducting.

Our afternoon together continues with more American music including the Symphony No. 2 of David Diamond, John Williams’ American Journey which was written for a multi-media production as part of the millennium. Also scheduled are two pieces by Aaron Copland: his suite from the 1940 film soundtrack to “Our Town” and the ubiquitous Fanfare for the Common Man.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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