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Fort Worth Opera commissions work about JFK's final day

Posted 9:36am on Monday, Jan. 07, 2013

In this, the 50th anniversary year of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Fort Worth Opera has announced it has commissioned an opera tentatively titled JFK, which will focus on the president's final morning in Fort Worth before his journey to Dallas.

It will receive its world premiere in 2016, the Fort Worth Opera's 70th anniversary year.

The work will culminate an FWO initiative called "Opera of the Americas," a 10-year program starting in 2014 that aims to present operas by contemporary composers of the Americas.

"Reflecting a significant moment in American history, JFK will tell the story of the lives and relationships of those connected to the 35th President of the United States with a focus on their moments in Fort Worth the morning before his fateful trip to Dallas," FWO General Director Darren K. Woods said in a prepared statement. "This is not only a part of our country's history, but our local history; and it had not only a global and national impact, but is extremely significant to our community, as well."

JFK will be the work of composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek, who are working with classical music journalist William V. Madison, whose career included time as CBS broadcaster Dan Rather's assistant.

"[Madison] is also a crucial member of the team, having spent hours researching and interviewing living witnesses from Fort Worth, including the cameraman from that tragic day," Woods said. "He has been instrumental in providing details to David and Royce and laying the groundwork for this historic piece."

The FWO is one of a few local arts companies that are planning works that remember or pay tribute to Kennedy. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra commissioned piano prodigy Conrad Tao to compose a piece for a November concert, and the Nasher Sculpture Center co-commissioned Steven Mackey to write a string quartet, which will be performed by the Brentano String Quartet, also in November.

More 'Opera of the Americas' works

Also scheduled during the program's first three years are two more world premieres and two regional premieres.

The lineup:

With Blood, With Ink by composer Daniel Crozier and librettist Peter M. Krask, a world premiere in 2014. It will feature costume design by celebrity fashion designer (and Project Runway alum) Austin Scarlett.

Silent Night by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell, a regional premiere in 2014.

A Wrinkle in Time by Libby Larsen and Bradley Greenwald, a world premiere in 2015.

Dog Days by Little and Vavrek, a regional premiere "within the first three years."

Previously announced were the company's 2013 plans, which include the regional premiere of Glory Denied, with music and words by Tom Cipullo, as well as the inauguration of "Frontiers," a program which will present scenes from eight unpublished works by composers of the Americas this year. The program will continue annually.

The "Opera of the Americas" and "Frontiers" series are the creation of Woods, who since his arrival in 2001 has pushed strongly for the inclusion of new operas in the company's repertory. With the exception of 2006, the company has presented at least one modern opera every year since 2005.

The newly announced "Opera of the Americas" lineup leans heavily toward drama.

With Blood, With Ink is based on the true story of 17th-century Mexican nun Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz, an intellectual, poet, theologian and champion of women's rights who was forced by the Inquisition to sign an oath in blood renouncing her life's work. It's a story well known to many Hispanic people.

Silent Night is based on another true event, the informal "Christmas truce" of 1914, in which soldiers of both sides in World War I stopped fighting and started fraternizing. The opera is based on the 2005 French film Joyeux Noël.

A Wrinkle in Time is based on a Madeleine L'Engle novel for young readers. It's a science-fiction story in which a small group of adolescents seek to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a government scientist who went missing while working on a top-secret project. Originally scheduled for 2014, the opera has been moved to 2015.

Dog Days is the tale of an apocalyptic wartime world and a family facing starvation. The opera is based on a short story of the same name by Judy Budnitz.

Further details about "Opera of the Americas" will be announced later.

The company's 2013 season, which will include La Bohème, The Daughter of the Regiment and Ariadne auf Naxos in addition to Glory Denied, will open on April 20 and close on May 12.

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