The Ballad of Baby Doe is an opera by the American composer Douglas Moore to a libretto by John Latouche. The premiere took place at the Central City Opera (Colorado) in 1956, with Dolores Wilson and Leyna Gabriele alternating in the title role; the New York premiere at the New York City Opera in 1958 was in a revised version, adding the gambling scene in Act 2 and an additional aria for Baby Doe; further revisions were under consideration, but abandoned upon the sudden death of John Latouche. It is Moore's most famous opera and one of the few American operas to be in the standard repertory (others being Carlisle Floyd's Susannah and Samuel Barber's Vanessa. )
The opera is noted for several things. Unlike most operas, the male lead is a baritone instead of the usual tenor. Especially famous are Baby Doe's five arias "Letter Aria," "Willow Song," "I Knew it Was Wrong", "Gold is a Fine Thing", and "Always Through the Changing." Horace Tabor's "Warm as the Autumn Light" is also frequently heard.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 7 July
(Conductor: - )
|Elizabeth-Baby Doe||soprano||Dolores Wilson (later Lenya Gabriele and Judith Raskin)|
|Horace Tabor||baritone||Walter Cassel (later Clifford Harvuat)|
|Augusta Tabor||mezzo-soprano||Martha Lipton (later Frances Bible)|
|Mama McCourt||soprano||Beatrice Krebs|
|William Jennings Bryan||bass||Lawrence Davidson (later Norman Treigle)|
|President Chester Arthur||tenor|
Based on the lives of Horace Tabor, Elizabeth "Baby" Doe Tabor, and Augusta Tabor, the opera tracks their lives from Horace and Baby Doe's meeting to the death of Horace. "Always Through the Changing" is a postscript ending foretelling Baby's death.
The story begins by commenting on the riches of the Matchless Mine and on how Horace Tabor owns the whole town of Leadville, Colorado. Horace sings "It's a Bang Up Job" to the townspeople, praising his new opera house and sharing his disenchantment with his wife Augusta. Augusta chides Horace for not acting in accordance to his station in life. Horace pleads with her not to insult the common people, equating the prostitutes' and bar girls' work to the work her committee did in helping build the opera house. Baby Doe comes in and meets Horace.
At night, Augusta goes to bed, while Horace finds out that the girl he met is named Baby Doe. He listens to her sing "The Willow Song" and applauds her-- much to her surprise since she did not know he was listening. He sings "Warm as the Autumn Light" to her. Augusta's comments from upstairs stop the scene.
Several months later, Augusta goes through Horace's study and finds gloves and a love letter. She thinks they are for her until she finally realizes that they are for Baby Doe. The rumors have been true. Horace comes in, they fight and Horace says he never meant to hurt her.
Baby Doe, at the hotel, realizes she must end her relationship with Horace and tells the hotel workers to find out when the next train leaves for Denver. The hotel workers go to find Horace so he can head her off. She sings of her love for Horace in a letter to her mother (the "Letter Aria"). Augusta comes in and tells Baby to leave. She agrees, but pleads that she and Horace have done nothing they should be ashamed of ("I Knew It Was Wrong"). When Augusta leaves, Baby decides against leaving at the same time Horace comes in. They sing of their love.
A year later, Tabor has left Augusta and is living with Baby Doe. Her friends inform Augusta, now living in Denver, that Horace plans to divorce her. She swears to ruin him.
Horace and Baby Doe's wedding party in Washington DC. Baby's mother praises the couple's riches, but the society wives deride Baby Doe, but when the couple comes in they are well received. The debate turns to the silver standard and Baby Doe sings "Gold is a Fine Thing". Horace then presents Baby with Queen Isabella's diamond necklace. Baby Doe's mother tells the Roman Catholic priest about Baby and Horace's divorces-- which he didn't know of. Scandal rocks the party, but is stopped when President of the United States Chester Arthur comes in and toasts the couple.
Act II chronicles the disintegration of Baby and Horace's riches. Augusta warns of the gold standard, but Horace doesn't listen. Horace politically backs William Jennings Bryan for president. When Bryan loses, Horace is abandoned by his party. In the final scene, Horace asks to see the opera house he built so long ago, though he no longer owns it. On the stage, he hallucinates and sees people from his past. Augusta both taunts and pleads with him. He is told that his one daughter will decry the name Tabor and that his other will become a prostitute. Distraught, he collapses. Baby Doe enters. After he is convinced that she is not a hallucination, he tells her nothing will come between them and begs her to remember him. He dies in her arms and she finishes the opera with "Always Through the Changing."