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Daugherty – Jackie O

Jackie O – Fiona McAndrew

Maria Callas – Nora Sourouzian

Aristotle Onassis – Simone Alberghini

Andy Warhol – Paul Carey Jones

Liz Taylor – Alice Quintavalla

Grace Kelly – Elizabeth Grayson

Voice of JFK – Enea Scala


Conductor – Christopher Franklin

Director – Director – Damiano Michieletto

Set – Paolo Fantin

Costumes – Claudia Pernigotti


Teatro Communale di Bologna 2 July 2008



Jackie O by Michael Daugherty (b.1954) is unashamedly a “pop opera”, a commentary on incidents in the life of Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, to give her her full name.  Its cast are media idols of their day and Daugherty draws on his hybrid background of classical, jazz and salon styles to make the music as iconical as the celebrities portrayed.  


To paraphrase from the composer’s notes that accompany the Houston Grand Opera recording of the work, Liz Taylor sings bluesy, cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof riffs, Princess Grace croons à la Doris Day, and Andy Warhol mirrors his art in a series of inflected repetitions.  Ari is given a Vegas sound, and Jackie’s music is described as “exotic, mournful and highly expressive” most often with a recurring saxophone accompaniment.   Maria Callas gets full blown operatic treatment, but in the lower register of a mezzo soprano, to reflect the deterioration that her voice had undergone by the late 1960’s.


This production, which premiered at the Lugo Opera Festival this spring did the piece full justice. Background lighting yo-yod through the rainbow hues of Warhol’s portraits:  lime, magenta, paprika, cyan and effective use was made of a giant Campbells’ soup can.  At one moment it swivelled to resemble the cylinder of a gun barrel – with Jackie is trapped inside – bringing to mind the opening titles of a Bond film, another icon of those years.


The impersonations were very clever blending historical accuracy with wit and panache.  Fiona McAndrew was uncannily accurate in the title role, and both Paul Carey Jones as Warhol and Nora Sourouzian as Callas created beautifully judged cameos, stopping just short of lampooning their originals.


Italian surtitles were provided for the local audience, but the diction was generally crisp enough to deliver the English words effectively, and the singers adapted their voices to the technical demands of the range of musical styles referred to above with natural sounding aplomb.  I was particularly impressed with the singing of Simone Alberghini (Ari) in a role that was testing at both extremes of his register, and Enea Scala who delivered the off stage presence of JFK with stentorian authority.


The overture had been illustrated by newsreel clips of the early Kennedy years.  At the end of the opera Jackie heralds a new frontier in American history against a folksy sounding guitar tune. The video screen again appeared this time filled with images of 9/11 and the totally conflicting juxtaposition of the upbeat music with debris drifting down from the destroyed UN towers was both effective and indescribably poignant.


A thoroughly satisfying evening in the theatre, and a production which I hope will be taken up by other venues.


Serena Fenwick



Daugherty – Jackie O

Dynamic 33605, 1 DVD, 93 mins

Teatro Communale di Bologna, recorded 2 & 4 July 2008


Cast as above


Revisiting this opera via DVD has proved an even more rewarding experience than seeing the opera on stage.  Much though I enjoyed the live show, my eyes were leaping about all around the stage never quite managing to take it all in.


Video director Matteo Ricchetti has really focussed on the detail, making the uncannily accurate characterisations totally convincing.  The cast are named above – they all deserve accolades!


The more I listen, the more I appreciate the subtleties of Michael Daugherty’s score.  Of course it’s brash, obviously tuneful without leaving any permanent imprint – he mirrors the spirit of the age exactly! 


Grand opera, maybe not, but this work really brings together the two masks of Janus in stark confrontation.  The glitzy, beautiful and hollow people of late 60’s NY are perfectly encapsulated between the tragedies of Kennedy’s assassination and the collapse of the twin towers. For anyone who appreciates music theatre at its best, this DVD is essential viewing.  


Serena Fenwick