You might liken it to seeing an ultrasound of an infant still in the womb.
But the difference is that we already know this baby is going to sing.
JFK: Libretto Reading and Storytelling, an event previewing an opera-in-progress about the late president, will take place Thursday evening at the Hilton Downtown Fort Worth — the building formerly named the Hotel Texas, where the Kennedys spent the night exactly 50 years earlier, on Nov. 21, 1963.
“It is a big conversation about the creation of this work and what inspired certain moments,” says Royce Vavrek, 30, of Brooklyn, N.Y. He is writing the libretto, the story and lyrics, for the opera in collaboration with composer David T. Little.
The piece, which has the working title of JFK, will be premiered at the Fort Worth Opera’s 2016 festival, in conjunction with the company’s 70th anniversary. JFK will focus on President John F. Kennedy’s last night in Fort Worth, including the interactions that he and the first lady had with members of the Fort Worth community in the hours before his fateful trip to Dallas.
“I will read some excerpts from the libretto that have been chosen by the team,” says Vavrek, referring to the artists and administrators from the Fort Worth Opera and the American Lyric Theatre, the company co-commissioning the work, who will be taking part in the event. “So it is not a full libretto reading.”
Instead, Vavrek says, the gathering (which will have no musical component) will offer a glimpse of how a work is developed in the highly collaborative world of opera.
“We are going to talk through the inspiration for specific moments,” he says.
This approach of “talking through” the work echoes the beginnings of this project.
“I did a reading of a piece a couple of years ago in New York and [FW Opera General Director] Darren Woods saw that,” Vavrek says. “We later talked for three hours over dinner, and Darren told me what he was looking for in this opera and what excited him. And I told Darren, if he wanted a political opera, David T. Little was the composer for the job, because politics informs his music. It all sort of blossomed from that conversation.”
The planned work is starting to take shape.
“We have a complete draft. We have a cast list. The opera uses Jack’s dreams to tell the story. So that opens up the opportunity to have people like Nikita Khrushchev in it,” he says. “Now we have two months to edit and make it perfect. Then David can start the composition process.”
Vavrek has been working on various projects with Little for the past five years. He is working on an opera about Gertrude Stein.
Vavrek offered some insight into the intricate partnership between the librettist and the composer.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the text is first. The text needs to drive the way that the music is going to tell the story,” he says. “I write the entire text and then, after David starts writing, he will sometimes call and say he needs five more lines of text for a certain part, or something like that. And I am usually able to do that.”
But that does not mean Vavrek, a former boy soprano from Alberta, Canada, is singing over the phone to Little as the work progresses.
“I don’t assign musical ideas to my text. I leave that to people who are much more creative in that regard than I am,” Vavrek says. “I write the best words I can and hope that encourages the best music.”
He also promises an opera that will be user friendly.
“David and I write operas that are ‘numbers operas,’” says Vavrek, referring to works with actual arias rather than just the sung conversation of many contemporary operas. “The arias are very important to us. They allow characters to be introspective. Also, people want songs. And we are happy to provide those for them. JFK already has many song moments, so people can be sure that they will get their singable tunes.”
And then he adds with a laugh, “At least I hope they will be singable.”
In addition to the libretto reading and discussion of the opera focusing on JFK’s final days, Thursday’s event will present the first installment of FWO’s multipart video series Making an Opera, described as “a multiyear documentary chronicling the creation of JFK from the initial research stages to its full production.”