New operatic work focuses on JFK's sister Rosemary

New operatic work focuses on JFK's sister Rosemary
Photo: Pat Redmond

Least Like The Other at the Galway International Arts Festival provides an intense musical take on the life of Rosemary Kennedy, writes Cathy Desmond

The tragic story of Rosemary Kennedy, a sibling of JFK, is the focal point of a new operatic work staged at the Galway International Arts Festival by Irish National Opera.

The eldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy was born with mild learning difficulties which placed her at odds with the intensely ambitious and intellectual milieu into which she was born.

Rosemary, a dark secret in the seemingly perfect family disappeared from view after a botched lobotomy aged 23 further incapacitated her.

Separated for decades from her family, she remained hidden away in an institution until her death in 2005, aged 86.

Rosemary’s story serves as a portal into the mores of the patriarchal society around her. Least Like The Other, is a fluid hybrid of opera and documentary mixing spoken voiceovers with an edgy contemporary score delivered by a single soprano line and 15 piece band.

The title is taken from the intelligence test devised by psychologist, Alfred Binet, where the candidate was required to pick the odd one out of a clutch of items, a test used to identify ‘feeble-mindedness.’

The no-frills, square shape of the Black Box Theatre was carried through into the staging. Divided into three side-by-side boxes, the orchestra were placed behind a screen stage right.

In the centre, a monochrome grey set with laboratory accoutrements created the prevailing medical aura and served to carry Netia Jones’s video projections of images and transcripts.

Stage left, seated behind a period microphone evoking a radio studio, a live voice over by Aoife Spillane-Hinks voiced extracts from interviews with Rose Kennedy in clear measured tones.

Two actors voice quotes of key figures and Naomi Louisa O’Connell’s sung vocal line serves to invigorate elements in the texts.

The excellent 15 piece band of strings, brass, low reeds and percussion delivered Brian Irvine’s complex score with impressive precision throughout a thought provoking and intense 70 minutes of musical theatre that gives a fresh perspective on the Kennedy back story.

Least Like The Other continues until July 20

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