60 Years Later, ‘Baby Doe’ Still Fascinates Central City Opera Audiences

Listen Now
Photo: Baby Doe Central City Opera 2016
Soprano Anna Christy as Baby Doe and baritone Grant Youngblood as Horace Tabor in "The Ballad of Baby Doe." Central City Opera's 60th anniversary production opens Saturday at the Central City Opera House.

Sixty years ago, Central City Opera unveiled an piece that won over fans well beyond Colorado.

"The Ballad of Baby Doe" returns to the Central City Opera House stage this Saturday for the start of an anniversary run.

An opera company always hopes for something special when it commissions a new piece. But Pat Pearce -- the general and artistic director of Central City Opera -- says that when "The Ballad of Baby Doe" premiered, everything fell into place.

Composer Douglas Moore’s "The Ballad of Baby Doe" became Central City Opera’s signature production.

“Everything just clicked in the end. To have this notch on our belt, if you will, is an important thing and has been an important thing for this organization," Pearce said.

It takes its story from real figures in Colorado history. There's Horace Tabor, the wealthy mining tycoon. His wife, Augusta. And Baby Doe, the woman who steals Tabor away.

While the opera was a hit when it debuted in 1956, there was a vocal minority who had known the characters in real life. Pearce says they didn't think of Baby Doe as a heroine.

"Everybody loved it here -- except some of the ladies here … who remembered Augusta and remembered Horace Tabor,” Pearce said. “There were a lot of Denver society ladies who were not pleased that this story was being told. Because it was a bad story as far as they were concerned.”

Pearce says part of the show's appeal in 1956 was its setting in the recent past -- Colorado in the late 19th century. But now he says the story’s love triangle probably resonates more today.

“People connect with this story not as a Colorado story, but as a love story. And that’s what ‘s gonna keep it being produced long after we’re gone.”

In fact there’s even a contingent of fans called "Doeheads." They travel around the country to see new productions of the opera. Expect to see a few of them when the anniversary production opens at the Central City Opera House, about an hour west of Denver.