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HIGH CULTURE IN LEADVILLE—REDISCOVERED   PART 2

COLORADO PIONEER ENTREPRENEUR Horace “Haw” Tabor and his second wife Baby Doe led adventurous lives. Today in Part 2, their legacies extend to film, radio, opera, and The New York Times.

Silver Dollar, 1932. Tabor’s life was the subject of the pre-Code movie Silver Dollar, starring Edward G. Robinson as a fictional Silver King, Aline MacMahon as his first wife, and Bebe (well named, eh?) Daniels as his love interest. The movie is based on the biographical novel (with name changes) by David Karsner.

Silver Dollar, 1939. An old-time “Lux Radio Theater” rendition of Silver Dollar, with Edward Arnold and Anita Louise, recurs on SiriusXM’s “Radio Classics.” It’s also available at YouTube.

The Ballad of Baby Doe, 1956. American composer Douglas Moore transformed the Tabor/Baby Doe tale into The Ballad of Baby Doe, which is now part of the operatic repertoire, especially in the U.S. Among those portraying the lead was Beverly Sills, whom Moore considered his favorite Baby Doe. 

As described in Wikipedia, “In the final scenes, Horace asks to see the opera house he built so long ago, although he no longer owns it. On the stage, he hallucinates and sees people from his past.”

The Tabor Opera House as it exists today in Leadville, Colorado. Image from leadville.com.

Today’s Tabor Opera House. As described by Elisabeth Vincentelli in “A Hidden Trove Gives a Glimpse of Opera in the Wild West,” The New York Times, August 11, 2021, “One summer day three years ago, Wendy Waszut-Barrett stumbled onto quite the discovery at the Tabor Opera House, high in the Colorado Rockies.”

Waszut-Barrett is a specialist in period theatrical painting who runs the company Historic Stage Services. She had heard rumors about old scenery being stored in the top floor of the Italianate theater, and asked if she could poke around.

Vincentelli writes that Waszut-Barrett “unearthed wings and shutters; flats stacked against walls; and painted sets as big as 12 feet wide and 16 feet high—a mountain vista, a parlor room, a forest. All in all, reflecting the fact that some of them were double-sided, there were around 250 ‘painted compositions.’ ”

Above, Wendy Waszut-Barrett gently cleans a Tabor Opera House scenery flat. Below, some of the rescued finds are now displayed on the stage of the Tabor Opera House. Images by Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times.

Oscar Wilde and the Miners. In its heyday, Leadville’s Tabor Opera House hosted musical comedies, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, traditional operas, even Oscar Wilde on a lecture tour.

There’s a great story about Wilde’s 1882 lecture described by David Ramsey in The Gazette, August 14, 2019: “He told the crowd of 888 at Tabor Opera House the tale of Italian master Benvenuto Cellini, a silversmith, but the miners misunderstood the time frame. They asked why Wilde had failed to bring Cellini with him. Easy answer: Cellini died in 1571.”

“ ‘Who shot him?’ a voice shouted from the crowd.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

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