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Opera reflects America’s history

The silver rush in Colorado during the 1880s sets the stage for “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” an opera playing in the Troutt Theatre Nov. 11-14.

And just to point out, the opera isn’t about a baby deer.

“The Ballad of Baby Doe,” written by John Latouche with music by Douglas Moore, is the most successful American opera of the 20th century. The opera is based on historical people and events in American history. It follows the story of Baby Doe, affectionately called the miner’s sweetheart by the miners. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty as she works alongside her husband. Horace Taber and his wife Augusta struck silver and contributed and owned much of Leadville, Colo., where Baby Doe ends up. From the opera house to the saloon, it’s all Horace. He became flirtatious with Baby Doe, divorced his wife and married Doe.

“Baby Doe in history and in the opera is loved, but she is never truly accepted by Denver higher society,” opera director Kristi Whitten said.

Horace falls ill and the opera alludes to his death at the end. Baby Doe, bathed in a single light, will sing an aria, which, according to Whitten, is very rare in an opera.

“Opera is sometimes ended with a really tragic death scene if it’s a dramatic or tragic opera or a really good operetta fun scene,” Whitten said. “We end with a single aria and she’s all alone on stage. She’s singing about always and forever she will stay true [to Horace].”

The opera isn’t just dramatic and tragic. There are dramatic moments but there are also fun, boisterous moments.

“Come and see opera singers loosen up a bit,” Whitten said.

“The Ballad of Baby Doe” was chosen to fit Belmont’s theme of creativity and invention. Whitten says Horace Taber shows a lot of self-invention because he earned his wealth through the silver rush.

“It’s great American history,” Whitten said. “It speaks of self-invention which is in some way what America is all about in the founding of our country, that time period in history where our country was searching for different ways to evolve and grow.”

The opera was chosen because there are many female opera singers and few males. Also, the students’ level of expertise was to be considered. It’s double cast with Amanda Pogach, graduate, and Kristen Corley, sophomore, as Baby Doe; Jessica French, graduate, and Stefanie Howerton, senior, as Augusta; and Adam Richardson, an alumnus, and Keith Wortham, junior, as Horace Taber.

“There’s a good amount of female opportunities: Augusta, Baby Doe and a couple of saloon girls,” Whitten said. “I am very low on men. The [men] I have are enthusiastic and we make it work because of that and they’re front and center in their work ethics, so that helps.”

Despite the struggles, Whitten is optimistic about the opera coming together and hopes at the end of the performances, the students will have learned how to perform an opera. She also hopes the audiences will leave with a sense they have learned some American history.

“I’m hoping I’ll have some who are endeared and some who are just thrilled to know about that time of history,” Whitten said. I think they’ll have fun. I think they’ll have a good time.”

Getting there “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” an American opera, runs at Troutt Theatre Nov. 11-14. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for faculty/staff, senior citizens and non-Belmont students. There’s free admission for Belmont students and culture and arts convo will be given.

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