“Ballad of Baby Doe” brings folk opera to CSUN with a classic love story

Antoine Abou-Diwan

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“Ballad of Baby Doe” is a classic American love-story told in a 400-year-old Italian art form.

It is a story about the boom-and-bust days of the Colorado mines in the Wild West, just before the turn of the century.

“The Ballad of Baby Doe” is an opera about the American West.

Music director David Aks said, “It’s based on real people in Leadville, Colorado from about 1880 through the turn of the century.”

“The Ballad of Baby Doe” is the story of Horace Tabor, a Colorado businessman and community leader who made his fortune in the late 1800s in Leadville’s silver mines.  He and his first wife, Augusta, were well-respected for their hard work and generosity.  Their immense success in the mines, coupled with their rise in station, led to friction at home and Horace’s eye began to stray.  Enter Elizabeth McCourt “Baby” Doe.

This production challenges the actors to not only portray their characters’ thoughts, emotions and actions, but to also create the atmosphere of the setting.

The audience can expect a sparse set, Aks said.

“It’s partly due to budget constraints,” he said.  “Operas are being done more this way these days. It places more responsibility on actors to create mood.”

The three leading actors explained the challenges posed by a minimalist set.

Bobby Akinboboye, 26, is the vocal performance major who portrays Horace Tabor.

“We are breaking habits here,” Akinboboye said.  “Established operas have a set way of doing things.”

Maria Elena Altany, 23, a vocal major, portrays Baby Doe.

“There are a lot of people playing different characters,” said Altany. “It’s all on us to create the characters. It’s minimalist.  We have to create the environment.”

Jenina Gallaway, 27, is the vocal major who plays Horace Tabor’s first wife, Augusta.

“It has never been done this way,” Gallaway said.

Guest director Zeffin Quinn Hollis is in his second year working with CSUN’s theater department and he’s pushing the cast more than ever.

“Think ‘angrier, bitchier,’” he said to the cast at a recent rehearsal.

“This is a dark but not over-the-top character,” he said to an actress before he had her sing her lines again.

Hollis is pleased with the way the cast has progressed in their rehearsals.

“This is a very different show in a day,” he told the cast when rehearsals concluded for the day.  “This is not (just) a school production. This is what we’re here for.”

“The Ballad of Baby Doe” will run Oct. 22, 24, 26, 28, and 30 at 7:30 p.m. and on Oct 31.  at 2 p.m. in Nordhoff Hall’s CSUN Campus Theatre.