Derek M. Mills with D. Kanzeg
Derek M. Mills
August 7, 1942 - March 7, 1998
Derek Mills was the quintessential
Doehead. He knew the opera The Ballad of Baby Doe by heart.
He wrote passionately about it and about its special, he averred,
place in American operatic literature. Indeed, in operatic literature
He also took time out of his busy professional schedule (he taught
human resource management and public administration, did private consulting,
wrote articles and critiques) to see Baby Doe performances
all over the country and to visit real-life Tabor sites.
His writings easily reveal his deep love for the Baby Doe story. Likewise
his passion for the opera that the story inspired. His was a love
that combined both an appreciation of the stage drama and a fascination
with the real life story it depicts. But the two-act masterpiece composed
by Douglas Moore and John Latouche (one of the most performed of any
American opera), was not nearly as well known as Derek felt was its
This web site was his idea: a place for all those who might share
the Baby Doe bug that so animated him. A site for the many friends,
who, under Derek's captivating spell, clearly sensed the infecting
Doemystique and its manifest joys. Derek knew of the opera's importance
to American music, and never failed to regale a potential convert
in the most persuasive, yet tender tones. He also knew how snugly
the Tabor story fit into the fabric of the American being, and was
willing to go on record to argue for what he and a few others took
to calling "the great American epic tale." In the telling,
the opera became a kind of elaborate visual aid toward a deeper understanding
of American history and culture.
But of all the items in the Doe oeuvre--a play, a musical, two operas,
a movie--Moore's Ballad was the rallying point for trueblue,
self-confessed Doeheads like Derek Mills. No grand Germanic Ring,
this "honky tonk" epic. Nor tense Russian Boris.
Nor noble Italian Nabucco. Nor even is it a precious Porgy,
with its hybrid theatrical feet firmly planted in at least two separate
musical genres. This opera--this "unabashedly listenable"
Doe--is nothing less than the signature American classic
tragicomedy, encompassing the frequently exaggerated scope of our
national vision along with the often irreconcilable contradictions
of our individual character. Derek set out to draw attention to this
American Odyssey and the lessons it leaves for the ages.
In the spring of 1998, Derek Mills died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage
in Anchorage, Alaska, while on a consulting trip for an Alaska Natives
health care organization. He was fifty-five years old. The date of
his death--March 7th--is the same date on which the historical Baby
Doe Tabor's body was found, frozen to death, on the floor of her cabin
in Leadville in 1935. It is an irony he would, no doubt, have greatly