Fort Worth Opera’s JFK: a musical tale of legacy and community

Darrn K. Woods

Fort Worth Opera

In one of his last speeches, President John F. Kennedy described his optimistic outlook for America, stating, “We stand on the edge of a great new era … one filled with opportunity and to be characterized by achievement and challenge.”

This year, the nation and world commemorate the somber 50th anniversary of his assassination in Dallas – a solitary moment in history that marked the end of an era of innocence and idealism for the country, and whose impact has reverberated for generations. As the nation sat unknowingly poised on the brink of this new reality, the 35th president of the United States spent his final hours alive, and inspiring hope, right here in Fort Worth. It has been the mission of Fort Worth Opera to identify stories of personal and local significance containing themes that resound on larger, global levels. In only two years, we’ll celebrate the company’s 70th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the FWOpera Festival, and while searching for a fitting way to commemorate these milestones, the unique tale of John F. Kennedy’s final 15 hours in our city of “Cowboys and Culture” stood out to us as a story still needing to be told. Falling in line with the president’s bold statement on opportunity and achievement, we will highlight this pivotal moment in American history – one that is distinct to Fort Worth and that is largely untold and unknown nationally and internationally – with our world premiere opera commission, JFK (working title). Ingrained in the fabric of this opera are the tales of notable community leaders and public figures who, over the course of the last 50 years, have helped to shape the city’s destiny. Collected by William V. Madison, former assistant to Dan Rather, the touching and sometimes comical memories of Fort Worth figureheads such as Ruth Carter Stevenson, Bob Schieffer, Corky Friedman (wife of then-Mayor Bayard Friedman), former Speaker of the House of Representatives Jim Wright, and Phil Crow, the cameraman who shot the president’s impromptu speech outside the Hotel Texas, build the historical framework for JFK. From Stevenson’s legendary trek across town to round up adequate artwork for the president’s hotel suite and Friedman’s hours spent with the presidential couple to Wright’s recollections of the Texas Boys Choir performance at the chamber of commerce breakfast on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, JFK celebrates the indelible impact of the president’s visit to Fort Worth. Created by the immensely talented artistic team of David T. Little and Royce Vavrek, JFK strips away the iconic personas of John F. and Jackie Kennedy – two of the world’s most recognizable figures – depicting their remarkable humanity, while also celebrating the characteristic warmth and humility that lie at the heart of the Fort Worth community. Little and Vavrek are best known for their recent collaboration on the heart-wrenching drama Dog Days – a production The New York Times named among a short list of the most “extraordinary” operas of 2012. Building from the true life accounts collected from Fort Worth residents and historical documents, Vavrek will create and shape the intimate relationships of the friends, family and supporters surrounding the presidential couple during this decisive time in American politics. Set to a lush and complex score by Little, JFK will offer audiences the opportunity of a lifetime to explore the untold depth of these historic characters, connecting with them in a personal and relatable way. The creation and commission of JFK will surely stand as one of Fort Worth Opera’s greatest achievements, but also one of its greatest challenges. Building this story will take more than three years, countless hours of research, major financial commitments and the support of the Fort Worth community. However, the true value of this opera lies in its ability to live beyond its premiere in Fort Worth. It is my personal mission to ensure the longevity of the piece for generations beyond our own – giving voice to the message of hope and optimism reflected in President Kennedy’s legacy, and shining an international spotlight on the great city of Fort Worth. When recounting John F. Kennedy’s final moments in Texas, Fort Worth’s story deserves to stand side by side with the president’s infamous last day in Dallas. Join with us as we begin the tremendous journey of bringing this opera and story to the world.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Darren K. Woods is general director of the Fort Worth Opera.