OP0120. The Ballad of Baby Doe (Douglas Moore), w.Buckley Cond.New York City Opera; Beverly Sills, Walter Cassel, Frances Bible, Chester Ludgin, Beatrice Krebs, etc. (Germany) 2-DG Stereo 228 550, recorded 1959, w.63pp Libretto-Booklet. Long out-of print; Final copy!
"…this remains a crucial document that captures not just a major moment in the history of an important American opera but also the dedication of everyone involved in that path-breaking New York City Opera production – all of whom knew they were participating in something that really mattered – and an extraordinary milestone in the career of Beverly Sills.”
- Marc Mandel, FANFARE, Sept./Oct., 1999
“…the raison d'etre for this recording's continued availability on LPs (first on MGM, later on Heliodor and Deutsche Grammophon) and now CDs is Beverly Sills, one of the most popular American sopranos of all time. Baby Doe was among her first big roles; she was not an unknown when she performed it at the New York City Opera, but she had been singing with the company for only three years when it was offered to her. On these discs, her voice is radiant, and her identification with the role seems complete. There's no Lucia-like coloratura for her to sink her teeth into; Baby Doe is for lyric sopranos, and Sills fits the bill nicely. Baritone Walter Cassel sang Tabor at the opera's première, and he repeats the role here, finding both the character's charisma and his fatal weakness. His sonorous voice reminds us that other successful roles for him were Scarpia and Jochanaan. Mezzo-soprano Frances Bible succeeds in making the thankless role of Augusta sympthetic; she excels in her moving Act Two aria, in which she agonizes over whether to offer financial support to the failing Tabor, in spite of everything that has passed between them. The dozens of supporting roles are cast from the New York City Opera company, and there's not a weak link. Everyone does his or her part to create a character, and everyone's diction is exemplary - one hardly needs a libretto.”
- Raymond Tuttle
“Long absent from the catalogue in any format because of legal complications (detailed by Rebecca Paller in the October 1998 issue of OPERA NEWS), the City Opera BABY DOE acquired legendary status early in life. In an age of studio-engineered ensembles, this was an opera recording with a vivid original-cast-album flavor. The three leads, Walter Cassel (Horace Tabor), Frances Bible (Augusta) and Beverly Sills (Baby Doe), were colleagues at New York City Opera who had sung there together under Buckley’s direction in BABY DOE less than two months before the recording sessions began in June 1959. While all three principal artists score full marks in their important arias, the fresh, live- performance feel is established by the way each singer understands the dramatic impact of the seemingly unimportant, off-hand moments provided by John LaTouche’s skillfully crafted libretto.
When Sills first performed Baby Doe, she wasn’t a superstar, or even a star, but merely one of several intelligent, attractive American sopranos under contract to New York City Opera. It was in BABY DOE that her extraordinary gifts were first recognized by a large audience, the electric connection between singer and role evident even to the most casual listener. Her voice is at its absolute freshest— silvery, dear, uncannily responsive — and her command of the text inspired. Sills’ Baby Doe is a completely convincing characterization, owning charm, wit and heart in equal measure. Every note, every word, every effect is persuasive, in moments great (the incandescent Silver aria) and small (the sweetening of vocal tone when she addresses her daughters). Sills became a true superstar in 1966, when her brilliant Cleopatra crowned NYCO’s GIULIO CESARE.
Cassel and Bible never matched Sills in celebrity, but in this performance they are fully her equals in star power. Cassel is wonderful from first to last, charging the opening scene with bravado in the fast-paced miners’ folk song, endowing the final moments of the opera with poignant dignity in his broken-hearted, weary farewell. His sensitivity to musical detail is remarkable: in his second scene with Baby Doe, he underlines the words ‘Deep in your lovely eyes/All of enchantment lies’, neatly anticipating the repeat in the winds of the same tumescent musical phrase when Augusta calls him to bed. Bible’s feminine tone and natural warmth humanize the rock-ribbed, emotionally immovable Augusta, her collection of confrontation scenes setting the stage for a showstopping final monologue in Act II. This BABY DOE is an American classic.”
- F. Paul Driscoll, OPERA NEWS, Aug., 1999
“Chester Ludgin, a baritone who sang more than 30 roles for the New York City Opera, including leading roles in its world premieres of THE CRUCIBLE by Robert Ward and THE GOOD SOLDIER SCHWEIK by Robert Kurka, made his City Opera début in 1957 as Dr. Falke in Johann Strauss II's DIE FLEDERMAUS. In that performance and for many decades afterward, Mr. Ludgin was praised for his dramatic stage presence as well as his singing. Reviewing his performance in Janacek's MAKROPOULOS AFFAIR in 1970, Harold C. Schonberg, the senior music critic of THE NEW YORK TIMES, cited his ‘characterization with every detail thought through, a characterization of chilling reality’. After a 1960 performance as Sharpless in Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY, another critic noted that ‘his noble, rich voice was a pleasure to hear, as always’.
Mr. Ludgin sang many leading baritone roles, but was particularly accomplished in American repertory, including THE BALLAD OF BABY DOE, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER and SUSANNAH. In addition to his many premieres with City Opera, he created the role of Sam for the Houston Grand Opera's 1983 world premiere of A QUIET PLACE, by Leonard Bernstein. He sang often at the San Francisco Opera and other companies in North America.”
- Jeremy Eichleraug, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 March, 2003