Inside “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” A Beloved American Opera

Music by Douglas Moore
Libretto by John Latouche
Premiered in 1956 at Central City Opera

Horace Tabor

Horace Tabor

“My feet kicked up gold dust wherever I danced, and whenever I shouted my name I heard a silver echo roar in the wind.” Horace Tabor

The Ballad of Baby Doe has become one of the staples of American opera, beloved for both its timeless love triangle as well as for its accessible music and beautiful lyrics. Based on actual Colorado history, the opera is filled with waltzes, ballads, marches, even oratory, all original composition but based on actual musical styles of the period. Artistic Director Emeritus, John Moriarty, who conducted the opera on many occasions, said, “The opera deals with universal truths and values. It is a story of undying love (Baby), of suffocating pride (Augusta), of hubris punished by the gods (Horace).”


Based on true people and events from Colorado’s mining heyday – beginning in 1880

Baby Doe Tabor

Baby Doe Tabor

Act I: 1880 – 1883

Horace and Baby Doe’s meeting and courtship in Leadville, CO; Augusta’s confrontations with Horace and Baby; the lavish wedding party in Washington DC where Horace is filling out an appointed Senate term.

Act II: 1893 – 1935

Silver crashes; the Tabors back the “Free Silver” candidate for president. In 1899 Horace, now destitute, remembers his life, realizing that Baby was “always the real thing.” After he dies in her arms, she lives out her promise to “hold on to the Matchless Mine.”


Horace Tabor, Mayor of Leadville – a recently minted millionaire from his silver mines

Elizabeth Doe, a petite and beautiful divorcée newly arrived in Leadville – called “Baby” by the miners of Central City, where she worked in her husband’s mine before he left her

Augusta Tabor, Horace’s wife – her hard work and frugal ways sustained them through twenty years of pioneering and prospecting before he struck it rich in Leadville

Mama McCourt, Baby’s mother – an overbearing proud parent who relishes her daughter’s success in landing a rich man

William Jennings Bryan, presidential candidate – he is known as a “silver-tongued orator,” and stands for “Free Silver”

Miners; Saloon girls; Cronies of Horace; Friends of Augusta; a Priest; Chester Arthur, President; Lillie and Silver Dollar Tabor, daughters; and other small roles


Want to learn more about this season’s operas?

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