When we think opera, Colorado isn't exactly what comes to mind. But that may change when Opera Idaho presents Douglas Moore's acclaimed The Ballad of Baby Doe, the Western-themed opera set in Leadville, Colo., during the late 19th century. You can catch this tale of love, big politics and quickly dwindling fortunes made all the more prescient by our own Western locale Friday, April 13, and Sunday, April 15, at the Egyptian Theatre.
"My character, Baby Doe, is married already to a silver miner who isn't doing very well, and he's drinking a bit," said lead Rebecca Davis. "So she leaves him for Leadville—a big deal at that time period. There, she meets Horace Tabor."
Elizabeth "Baby" Doe Tabor, played by Chicago-area native Davis, is a woman fiercely loyal to Tabor, her newfound silver baron husband, at a time when presidential hopeful William McKinley is pushing gold as the American standard. Both leave marriages to be together, as Tabor, played by Constantinos Yiannoudes, enters politics for his silver candidate, William Jennings Bryan.
Steeped in American history and based on a true story, the opera is a Western tale, but features inspirations from more classical operas: Puccini for subject matter, classical composers for the arrangements.
"The music references back to that kind of Western honky-tonk or player piano," said Davis. "There are a lot of influences in the music. Yesterday, we were listening and we thought: 'That sounds like Gershwin!'"
Davis has a country-Western background, and she sang backup for country star aunt Suzy Bogguss. While now she favors arias over country minstrelsy, her role as Baby Doe provides a link—like the opera itself—to Americana roots.