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The Ballad of Baby Doe

From 02/07/04, for 02/10 and 02/12

George Walker, WFIU

Douglas Moore’s opera “The Ballad of Baby Doe” is a big sprawling American tale of new wealth, economic and political power and love set in Colorado and Washington, D. C. in the 1880s.

The IU Opera Theatre production is conducted by David Effron with stage direction by Michael Ehrman and a design by C. David Higgins.

In Saturday night’s cast Scott Skiba was an ever resolute, back patting booster as Horace Tabor, the poor miner who rose to be a silver king, Mayor, Lieutenant Governor and Senator. At the same time there was often just a bit of vulnerability and his final demented scenes were very moving.

Erin Kelly played the divorced miner’s wife “Baby Doe.” The woman that Horace Tabor falls in love with and leaves his wife, Augusta, for. Kelly’s “Baby..” was lovely to look, acting well and with only a few dramatically placed bobbles, vocally effective.

Reviews of productions of “The Ballad of Baby Doe” show that one of the leads can take over the show. The character of Horace Tabor with his tough bravado and yet vulnerable character may be the highlight. The ineffable beauty, charm and loyalty of Baby Doe may be in the spotlight.

The star of Saturday night’s production was Margaret Nilsson as Horace Tabor’s first wife, the stiffly genteel Augusta. It’s easy for an Augusta to simply appear as a woman so bound in her gentility that she’s a monster, Horace Tabor is well off to escape from. In Saturday night’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” Augusta’s own love and steadfastness were presented very sympathetically and strongly.

Baby’s rough-hewn mother, Mama McCourt, was sung with plenty of gusto by Jessica Vanderhoof. Jason Plourde was every bit the baby kissing politician in his appearance as William Jennings Bryan in a political rally.

“The Ballad of Baby Doe” is a real piece of Americana. The only actual quote that Douglas Moore makes is a brief hint of “My Darling Clementine,” but the show is full of authentic sounding dance hall tunes, parlor ballads, work songs and even a rousing political campaign piece. Guest Director Michael Ehrman has drilled his very large cast into a smooth unit in which everyone has a distinct role and part. Throughout the evening C. David Higgins’ sets smoothly rotated from one intricately detailed scene to another with only the briefest of pauses in between.

The IU Opera Theatre Production of Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” will be repeated this Friday and Saturday at eight.

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