classical music

Opera review: UM Frost’s ‘Jackie O’ is a wild, satisfying ride


If you go

UM’s Frost Opera Theater repeats Jackie O at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables.; 305-284-2400.

Michael Daugherty’s Jackie O is a postmodern synthesis of American popular culture and avant-garde modernism. The University of Miami Frost Opera Theater’s production of Daugherty’s opera, which opened Thursday at Gusman Concert Hall, is brilliantly realized and arrestingly staged.

Daugherty has received widespread attention for his instrumental scores based on such American pop culture icons as Superman and Elvis Presley, but he has a more reflective side as well. His luminous song cycle Labyrinth of Love, settings of eight love poems spanning several centuries, was a highlight of last fall’s Festival Miami. Daugherty’s 1997 opera mixes the composer’s duo artistic impulses in an original and constantly surprising manner.

Rather than a linear biographical narrative, the opera presents events in the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the context of the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s. Such tabloid figures as Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Maria Callas (Aristotle Onassis' former lover) are cast in imaginary encounters and conversations with the heroine. Wayne Koestenbaum has created a stunningly creative libretto, an amalgam of Gertrude Stein and Bertolt Brecht, replete with irony, sarcasm and pathos.

Daugherty’s multilayered score matches Koestenbaum’s wild creative flights. The elegiac solo cello theme that opens and closes the score is a leitmotif for the heroine. This dark suggestion of tragedy is juxtaposed against the pop sensibility of the opening scene, a party of New York’s cultural glitterati at Warhol’s loft.

Onassis’ seduction tango has more than a touch of Greek folk flavoring, and his alcoholic anthem It’s Never Too Late for a Stiff Drink is unabashed ’60s rock. Gradually the music becomes more austere, as with the Flame Duet between Jackie and Callas, bracing in its astringent harmonics. Only I Will Meet You at the Lido, a catchy duet for Callas and Onassis, seems miscalculated, delaying the climactic scenes for a production number.

Ben Krywosz’s multimedia production, enhanced by projections of color patterns and news headlines and photos of Jackie throughout her life, is marvelously vibrant and effective, and Anne Kuite’s high-energy choreography was brilliantly executed by the principals and ensemble. Johnson’s leadership of Daugherty’s complex brew is masterful, the Frost Symphony Orchestra members’ playing both subtle and jolting in leaping rhythms and harmonics.

On opening night of this double-cast production, Vindhya Khare was every inch the heroine, exuding elegance, glamour and mystery. Her rich, agile soprano was radiant in duet with the Callas of Mia Rojas. Rojas cut a tragic figure as the jilted diva, with a dark timbre and potent dramatic projection. Max Moreno was an arrogant Onassis with a virile baritone to match, his low tones chilling as he uttered “Jackie, you are the Angel of Death” after hearing that his son has died.

Carl Du Pont’s mellow baritone encompassed Warhol’s Artist Credo, and Hilary Trumpler assayed Liz Taylor’s bluesy cadenzas brilliantly. Jennifer Voigt’s light soprano and beauty made Grace Kelly’s party appearance more than a cameo. Special kudos for Ryan P. Townsend’s clear, high tenor as the offstage voice of Kennedy asking Jackie’s forgiveness.

This uniquely entertaining and emotionally powerful work offers a compelling evening of music theater and a high water mark for Frost Opera Theater and its director Alan Johnson.

For complete coverage of classical music, go to

Read more Performing Arts stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category