The Ballad of Baby Doe Synopsis

The Story of Doulas Moore's 2 Act Opera

Composer Douglas Moore wrote The Ballad of Baby Doe and premiered the opera at the Central City Opera in Colorado, USA on July 7th, 1956.

Setting of The Ballad of Baby Doe:

Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe chronicles the lives of the historical figures Horace Tabor, Elizabeth "Baby" Doe Tabor, and Augusta Tabor, in 20th century Colorado.

The Story of The Ballad of Baby Doe

The Ballad of Baby Doe, ACT 1
Horace Tabor, for the most part, owns the entire town of Leadville, Colorado.  After his newly constructed opera house is opened, he stands in front of the gathered townsfolk and sings praises about it while taking jabs at his wife, Augusta.  During the opera's intermission, Augusta pulls Horace aside to scold him for his behavior in public.  At his age, she says, he should not be acting that way.  Horace retaliates by comparing the work she did to raise money for the opera house's construction to the work done by prostitutes and bar girls.  Before their conversation can escalate further, they are interrupted by a woman near the end of the intermission asking them to direct her to a hotel.  Horace kindly recounts the directions to her before returning to the opera with Augusta.

Horace and Augusta return home once the opera concludes.  Augusta readies herself for the evening and retreats to the bedroom while Horace grabs a cigar and exits to the front porch.  Two women happen to pass by talking about the woman whom Horace gave directions to at the opera earlier that evening.  Horace listens intently and discovers the woman's name is Baby Doe and she has a husband living in Central City.  Horace's home is situated within throwing distance of the hotel and moments after the women are out of sight, Baby Doe begins singing "The Willow Song."  Horace can hear her voice wafting from her hotel window, and he immediately applauds her when she finishes.  Baby Doe is startled by his shouts since she believed herself to be her only audience.  Following his applause, Horace responds with a song of his own, but after a few shouts from Augusta's bedroom, he zips his mouth and hurries inside.

While tidying up the house a few months later, Augusta finds a box tucked away in Horace's study.  With a slight grin, she opens the package and finds a fine pair of gloves and a love letter.  To her surprise and dissatisfaction, the gift is addressed to Baby Doe.  Augusta's heart breaks.  She thinks back to every rumor she's heard about her husband since Baby Doe's arrival into town and realizes they were all true.  When Horace returns home, Augusta confronts him in a fit of rage.  After much fighting, Horace confesses he never meant to hurt her.

In her hotel room, Baby Doe has been considering leaving town alone.  She finally decides to do it and asks the hotel staff when the next train for Denver departs.  Several staff members run to Horace and divulge Baby Doe's plans.  Meanwhile, as Baby Doe packs her belongings, she pens a letter to her mother detailing her love for Horace.  Augusta soon enters demanding that Baby Doe leave.  Baby Doe agrees, but not before telling her that her relationship with Horace, though wrong, has no cause for shame.  Augusta turns away and walks out the door just moments before Horace comes in.  With his arrival, Baby Doe changes her mind and stays.  Horace couldn't be happier. 

After a year has passed, Horace now lives with Baby Doe, while Augusta stays with friends in Denver.  Augusta finds out that Horace has decided to divorce her.  In her anger, she swears revenge, promising to ruin his life.

Months go by and Horace and Baby Doe are about to get married in Washington DC.  The couple have become very wealthy and Baby Doe's mother praises them for it, while the housewives in attendance ridicule them.  However, their conversations change when Baby Doe and Horace step out into the party.  Baby Doe and Horace mingle among the crowd and join in the debate about the silver standard, saying they prefer the gold standard.  Horace surprises Baby Doe with a beautiful diamond necklace that once belonged to Queen Isabella.  Baby Doe is overjoyed and shows off her new jewelry.  Baby Doe's mother converses with the Roman Catholic priest and informs him that both Baby Doe and Horace were previously married but got divorced.  The priest had no idea, which is overheard by several of the catty women.  Soon, it's a full-blown scandal.  Thankfully, it is put to rest when the President of the United States comes in and gives a toast to Horace and Baby Doe.

The Ballad of Baby Doe, ACT 2
Horace and Baby Doe have enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle for quite some time, but sadly, their fortune is dwindling.  Augusta has repeatedly warned Horace of the gold standard, but he paid her no heed.  He spent a great deal of his fortune backing presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, but when Bryan lost, Horace was abandoned by his party and not a single dollar was returned.  

Now, nearly broke, Horace returns to the opera house he built many years before, which he sold and no longer owns.  He takes a seat on the stage and begins to hallucinate of his past.  He sees Augusta pleading with him, then taunting him, visions of his two daughters whom he is told one will end up disowning his name while the other turns to a life of prostitution.  Horace becomes so upset he falls to the floor unconscious.  Baby Doe enters the theater and rushes to his aid.  After coming to, Baby Doe convinces him she is not a hallucination.  He believes her and says that nothing will ever come between them.  Then, realizing his own mortality, he begs her not to forget him.  Suddenly and without warning, he dies in her arms.

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