News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
President John F. Kennedy's assassination is an unforgettable part of Dallas' history.Nearly 54 years later, scholars and enthusiasts alike are still processing details from that fateful drive through Dealey Plaza now that the remaining investigation files have been unsealed. For the 50th anniversary in 2013, KERA produced special stories and reports from the commemoration:The 50th: Remembering John F. Kennedy was KERA's live, two-hour special covering the official commemoration event at Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 2013. Hosted by Krys Boyd and Shelley Kofler, the special includes reports from KERA reporters before the ceremony begins. Listen to the special here.Bells tolled across the city, and the event featured historian David McCullough, who read from Kennedy’s presidential speeches; Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings; religious leaders; the U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club; and a moment of silence. Read highlights from the event from KERA's live blog from that day.Throughout the month, KERA posted an online series called 22 Days In November, which takes a closer look at that fateful day, what it meant to the country and how it affected Dallas.We shared stories and memories in a series called “JFK Voices.” Explore our archives below.

JFK Opera Premieres Saturday In Fort Worth

Nine Photography
Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack and baritone Matthew Worth sing the roles of Jacqueline Kennedy and Jack Kennedy in Fort Worth Opera's new JFK, by librettist Royce Vavrek and composer David T. Little

Fort Worth Opera’s JFK gets its world premiere Saturday. It recounts President Kennedy’s last night on earth, which many may not know was in Fort Worth. The opera blends other forgotten facts with fantasy in a story that some are calling the most anticipated new opera of the American season.

Fort Worth Opera director Darren Woods was looking for a very big, very local original opera for the company’s 70th anniversary. He’s lived in Fort Worth 15 years but this little fact took even him by surprise.

“Our director of production at the time, Kurt Howard said ‘You know, I think that Kennedy spent his last night in Fort Worth.’ And I went, ‘Everybody would know that if that happened,’ Woods recalled. “ ‘That can’t…’ So we Googled it and boy there it was. He spent his last night there.”

Woods liked it. He insisted the story stay in Fort Worth. He didn’t want to include Dallas.   

“We know that story and I didn’t want to go there,” Woods said.

And Woods wanted librettist Royce Vavrek, and composer David T. Little to go away from the land of myth, where the Kennedys have been for decades. To make them people again, Vavrek turned things around.

“We took the myth of JFK and we really attempted to make him mortal,” Vavrek said.

The Kennedys arrived in Fort Worth November 21, 1963, stayed in what’s now The Fort Worth Hilton (it was then the Hotel Texas), appeared at a breakfast, then left.

Credit Merri Cyr
Composer David T. Little (glasses) and librettist Royce Vavrek wrote JFK. Emerging stars in the opera world, they immersed themselves for weeks in Fort Worth and researched Kennedy's overnight visit for facts and information that inspired the opera.

“I remember coming here to this room looking out these magnificent tall windows,” says librettist Vavrek.  

He sits in the Presidential Suite of the hotel.

“The window from the hotel suite plays such a huge role in the opera,” Vavrek says. “Jackie opens it. Her fist image is looking out the window.”

“A million miles away, he sleeps…” sings mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, in the role of Jacqueline Kennedy.  The the opera’s first aria is Midnight Is The Loneliest Hour.

“And what were those conversations,” Vavrek wonders, “that he had with Jackie in the privacy of this suite?”

Of course, nobody knows. And here is where Vavrek and Little let imagination and wild fantasy take over.

Jackie gives Jack an injection to numb his notorious back pain. Jack falls asleep soaking in the tub. A series of drug-induced dreams and hallucinations follow, including a first-time meeting with Jackie that leads to the opera’s love duet.

In another scene, a pride of Texas political bosses led by LBJ crowd into Kennedy’s bathroom challenging his manhood, political and sexual. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and a giant beach ball make an appearance. So do bouncing cheerleaders and the Texas Boys Choir – both performed for Kennedy in Fort Worth. And always there’s a chorus of the three Greek fates. They determine birth, life and death.

Little and Vavrek say reality and fantasy create tension between joy and tragedy.

“We deviated as much from the facts as the truth required,” Little says.

Both, says Little, are important in making the Kennedys real again for the audience. 

“It’s really about this affirmation of life, because we know of the death that is imminent,” he says.

In the last aria, Jack’s optimistic because clouds have passed and it’s a beautiful morning. The sun’s shining so he can leave the car top down. The chorus sits at tables. On the opera stage they wear red-lens 3-D glasses, the kind movie goers wore to watch horror films in the 1960s

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.