TELEGRAM WD064 PD NEW YORK NY 22 323P EST MRS JOHN F KENNEDY THE WHITE HOUSE I REALIZE THE UTTER FUTILITY OF WORDS AT SUCH A TIME, BUT THE WORLD OF CIVILIZATION SHARES THE POIGNANCY OF THIS MONUMENTAL TRAGEDY. AS A FORMER COMRADE IN ARMS, HIS DEATH KILLS SOMETHING WITHIN ME GENERAL MACARTHUR.
Camelot Requiem, music by Joshua Bornfield and words by Caitlin Vincent, is a story of human grief and personal mourning. Following the family members, personal staff, and close friends of President John F. Kennedy for the ten hours after his death, Camelot Requiem takes place in Parkland Memorial Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital. Although the opera in set in these two small areas, the emotional content of the work takes the listener far beyond those walls. Performed May 10th and 11th on the Spire Series at First & Franklin Presbyterian Church, The Figaro Project troupe brought sensitivity and skilled musicianship to the emotionally fraught work.
Director William Schaller deftly planned for Stephen Campbell as Reverend Oscar L. Huber to enter from the back of the church providing the audience with a more immediate sense of involvement in the process of events. Incorporating the audience in this fly on the wall sense created a strong intimacy between performers and listeners that lingered throughout the performance. A cursory glance around the audience can confirm that there were many that could remember where they were when and as many that could not. Bornfield’s score includes stunning ensemble writing from the beginning. The tight focus on personal relationships and experiences is punctuated by the overarching structure of the Requiem Mass (Missa pro defunctis). Campbell, Jeremy Hirsch as Dr. George Buckley, and Kate Jackman as Nurse Patricia Hutton gave subtle performances with clear singing and were strong ensemble forces along with the secretaries. Leslie Proctor as Evelyn Lincoln, Melissa Wimbish as Nancy Tuckerman, and Jessica Hanel Satava as Pamela Turnure were quite successful in the Telegram Trio in which they read numerous condolence telegrams to a stunned and shell-shocked Jackie. Each of the three have distinctive and compelling voices as well as acting skills which they used artfully to transport the audience through happy memories and painful grief.
Alex Rosen and Lisa Perry as Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson enhanced the story as foils to the Kennedys. Their struggle with identity in relation to the grandeur of “Camelot” is brief, in this production, but necessary. Lady Bird’s aria musically mirrors her role in this work. The slight jazz and blues influences give the ear a nice change of pace. The Swearing-In Ceremony scene was particularly moving due to Schaller’s use of scale on stage in tandem with the building ensemble sound in the score all anchored by Rosen’s command of voice and stage. It must be mentioned that the instrumental ensemble, led by conductor Blair Skinner, were equal partners with the vocalists. They demonstrated exquisite skill in compounding the emotion from the stage and carrying it through their playing.
It is truly the performances of Nathan Wyatt as Robert Kennedy and more-so Caitlin Vincent as Jacqueline Kennedy that make Camelot Requiem so captivating and magical. Wyatt used his healthy, American sound to embody Bobby Kennedy. While certain characters in this opera would have been elevated by more mature actors, Wyatt was able to capture that serious yet hopeful spirit of the 36-year-old man with his energetic and powerful “This is the New Frontier” which lead the cast’s recession. Left alone on stage, Vincent delivered the most emotionally devastating singing and acting of the performance. Bornfield primes the ear with a solo cello line that leads into Jackie’s “When he dies, take him.” The sorrow in this text is palpable in Vincent’s singing of “I’d rather die with you than live without you. But, you didn’t listen to me. You left me alone, Jack.” Jackie never weeps or physically lashes out at any point through the story. However, it is clear that her profound bereavement is expressed vocally in her moments alone on stage. Finally, the “Lux Aeterna” sung from the balcony by the rest of the cast leaves the audience suspended and feeling what I imagine the entire country was feeling at that moment what could possibly come next?
It is my sincere hope that more audiences are given the opportunity to revel in this work. The Figaro Project, Bornfield, and Vincent have created something truly special that should continue to live in subsequent performances. Camelot Requiem has the necessary qualities of a new opera, strong musical, dramatic elements and a pivotal historical moment, that American audiences will especially gravitate toward. The entire cast and crew of The Figaro Project did justice to the story without hint of emotional hyperbole by faithfully creating complex characters through text, music, and drama.