UNL cast brings ‘Ballad of Baby Doe’ to life

Horace Tabor, portrayed by Trey Meyer, shares a moment of anguish with his wife, Augusta, played by Patty Kramer, after she learns of his love affair with a younger woman. Meyer and Kramer, both graduate students at University of Nebraska at Lincoln, were in town to portray the opera, “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” to area students Tuesday.

A woman found out about her husband’s love affair in front of roughly 350 students Tuesday.

Cast members from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln opera program brought “The Ballad of Baby Doe” to life for the students, who came from 10 area schools. The American opera follows the story of Horace Tabor; his first wife, Augusta; and his second marriage to Elizabeth “Baby” Doe.

After a public performance Sunday at the North Platte Community Playhouse, opera members returned Tuesday to portray the historical figures, who rose and fell in Colorado.

Cast members used the entire theater in their acting, coming onstage through an outside door and storming down the aisles to exit. Members’ voices carried to the back of the theater, yet none of the cast members wore a microphone.

Unlike musical theater, which commonly fills North Platte’s playhouse, nearly all of the dialogue was sung, and the music was classical in nature.

After the show, cast members stood in front of the stage to answer students’ questions.

Cast members said they ranged from age 19 to about 28. The cast consisted entirely of music and theater majors, including some musical education majors as well.

Students were cast in the opera last spring, learned the play over the summer and began rehearsals three days a week for 2½ hours each at the start of the school year. On Wednesday, the students will begin rehearsing for their next piece.

When asked how the cast keeps their vocal ranges and vocal cords top notch, they said time and practice.

Patty Kramer, who played Augusta Tabor, said she is a doctoral student in vocal studies — all but one of the lead roles were played by graduate students.

“I’m on my ninth year of vocal studies,” she said to applause from the audience.

The cast members have all spent their lives studying an instrument, multiple instruments or vocal music, to go to UNL and perfect the art, the college students said. It’s meant learning how to warm a voice up and warm it down, knowing when to take a break, as in sports, and learning various mediums.

One student said he had a predominant background in gospel and church music — again met with applause — and another said this was her second opera, a shift from a past in musical theater.

The performance, made possible by a gift from the James C. and Rhonda Seacrest Tour Nebraska Opera Fund, was a way to expose students in west central Nebraska to opera.

The director of the opera, William Shomos, told the students before the performance that he suspected Tuesday was their very first opera.

“Today’s the day you can no longer say that anymore,” he said. “That’s just really cool for me.”

After the performance, Shomos told the students they didn’t know how much it meant to him, the cast or the crew that the opera was able to come to North Platte.

“It’s really special to bring what we love to you,” he said.

Students also asked cast members about how to maintain physical facial reactions when singing high notes.

“I thought the reactions to everything were good,” said Rebekah Vote, a sophomore at Wallace Public Schools.

Bernice Arvizo, a senior at Wallace, agreed the show was fun to watch.

“I thought everything flowed together,” she said.

Horace Tabor found wealth mining silver in Colorado in the late 1800s. He opened the Tabor Opera House in Leadville and operated other businesses with the help of his wife, Augusta. He later left Augusta, his former boss’s daughter, for the younger, more attractive Baby Doe. The affair and ensuing second marriage caused quite the scandal of the time. As time went on, the value of silver — from which Horace had come by most of his wealth, particularly through the Matchless Mine — decreased. When the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed, he and his family lost everything.

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