Saturday, March 14, 2015

baby doe

Perusing the news this morning, I became so distressed and disenchanted with everything going on in the country: treasonous senators, "religious freedom" bills, income inequality, police assaults on unarmed black children, discrimination, bigotry, etc... I had to look away; shift my attention. It being Pi day (3/14/15), I turned my attention to pie. I started looking at photos of apple pies, and began to wonder, what makes a thing iconic to, or expressively representative of a particular culture - especially America? 

With this idea in mind, I started listening to music. 

Opera is European and not an American art form. This is a firmly held notion, yet there have been the few rare exceptions (Barber, Thomson, Gershwin, Kern) when this idea has been turned on its head. In Douglas Moore's 1956 opera, "The Ballad of Baby Doe," opera and Americana mix so organically, you can almost hear patchwork quilts, and smell apple pies cooling on windowsills as Norman Rockwell's brush hits his canvas. 

Set in the silver-mining state of Colorado, the opera tells the tragic and true story of a young girl who stakes everything on love, taking a successful 19th century prospector and business man, Horace Tabor, away from his wife, only to see him die a ruined man, and then to die in poverty herself. 

For those of us who may mainly remember Beverly Sills as, "Bubbles" the orange-haired, smiling hostess of PBS pledge drives, or narrator to Live from Lincoln Center telecasts, this is a good reminder that her celebrity was founded in extraordinary singing and breakthrough performances. At the risk of overusing superlatives, these few minutes contain some of the most haunting and beautiful singing ever. 

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