Fort Worth Opera casts the Kennedys for ‘JFK’

08/11/2014 7:53 AM

08/11/2014 7:54 AM

John F. Kennedy will be a baritone.

Matthew Worth, whose voice The New York Times has described as “fully powered and persuasively expressive,” has been cast to play the title role of the late president in the Fort Worth Opera’s forthcoming work, JFK, the company announced Monday.

The piece, which is being co-developed with the American Lyric Theater, will premiere 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.

The opera uses the president’s dreams to tell the poignant story.

The composer-librettist team of David T. Little and Royce Vavrek gave JFK an early libretto reading last November at the Fort Worth Hilton — formerly the Hotel Texas, where the Kennedys stayed the night before his assassination.

In the role of Jacqueline Kennedy will be mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, and portraying Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson will be bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch. Soprano Talise Trevigne sings the part of Clara Harris, the Hotel Texas maid, and tenor Sean Panikkar will portray Kennedy’s secret service agent and confidant Henry Rathbone.

“The casting for any opera is one of the most important decisions I have to make, but the pressure to assemble the ideal roster for JFK was intensified by of the nation’s preconceived ideas of these American icons,” Fort Worth Opera General Director Darren K. Woods said in a news release.

About Worth and Mack in the key roles of Jack and Jackie, Woods said, “When Matthew Worth auditioned for David, Royce and me, we immediately felt his elegance and strong presidential presence.

“We knew the role of Jackie would require a singer who could convey strength and vulnerability in equal measure. We found that command in Daniela Mack — a warm mezzo-soprano with a little steel in the sound who carries herself with such beauty and grace that it was easy to see her as the first lady,” he said.

Panikkar’s name is a familiar one to Fort Worth Opera audiences, as he received critical acclaim for his turn as Rodolfo in La Bohème during the 2013 festival and as Nadir in The Pearl Fishers this year. He is also a member of the pop-opera group Forte, which earned fame on the TV show America’s Got Talent.

JFK cast members will give the first public preview of the opera during a workshop and discussion called “InsightALT: JFK” in New York City on Nov. 25.

In conjunction with the development of JFK, the Fort Worth Opera is working on a 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.” Portions of the documentary can be viewed at www.fwopera.org.

This story contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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