Advertisement
Music

The Kennedy dynasty’s darkest secret

A new opera takes a look at the life of the ‘secret child’ the Kennedys tried to shield from the public gaze

When New York magazine ran its recent cover story on Hollywood nepotism it marked the culmination of long-running online discussions about ‘nepo babies’ – the offspring of famous parents who enjoy glittering careers in film, fashion and suchlike. The article – and the surrounding chatter – focuses on the born-famous; Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis), Zoë Kravitz (Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet) and others who have obtained unicorn creative roles. 

Then there’s Brooklyn Beckham, who, despite being born into enormous wealth, cited his new job as a chef for the reason he could afford a car worth a million. He and other nepo babies might like to acquaint themselves with the ‘equity vs equality’ diagrams. In one example, people of varying heights are given the same box to stand on, which doesn’t help those of shorter stature to see over the fence. However, when given boxes according to need, everyone can enjoy the same view, ie a privileged start will inevitably yield – often disproportionately high – benefits.  

Our obsession with dynastic power is reaching a peak. Whether it’s the Kardashians or the royals, money and family ties make compelling plotlines. There’s Succession, the biting TV series unofficially based on the Murdochs; and The Windsors, a spoof Channel 4 programme and stage show. Now an opera about the original celebrity first family, the Kennedys, is about to have its UK premiere. Least Like the Other: Searching for Rosemary Kennedy explores the dark story of the oldest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and sister of US president John F Kennedy. While there’s no doubt that JFK worked hard to gain the presidency, he was helped by being born into an extremely privileged family who supported his campaign both financially and through social connections. 

Appearances mattered, and Joseph and Rose felt that Rosemary, who had significant additional needs, was a scandalising embarrassment to the Kennedy legacy. They prevented her from leaving the house, then, when she was 23, they forced her into having an unnecessary lobotomy that left her immobile, incontinent and unable to speak. Rosemary was institutionalised until her death in 2005.  

Composer Brian Irvine and director Netia Jones’s opera uses source material from newspaper reports, letters and biographies to create a patchwork stage piece that reveals the Kennedys’ shadowy behaviour – as well as the societal conditions that supported their cruelty. Least Like the Other: Searching for Rosemary Kennedy is produced by the Irish National Opera and is showing at the Linbury Theatre in London’s Royal Opera House (January 17, 18, 19). 

Classical music has dynasties of its own. The Mozart family’s most famous member, Wolfgang Amadeus, was pushed into performance by his father Leopold, himself a competent composer and distinguished violinist. There was also Maria Anna (‘Nannerl’), Wolfgang’s sister, who was a child star. Although her solo career was curtailed by marriage, Maria Anna was a notable piano teacher, while Franz Xaver, Wolfgang’s son, became a composer-pianist.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

When Bach is mentioned today, we usually refer to Johann Sebastian. But some of JS Bach’s 20 children went on to become famous composers too: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach enjoyed success as the harpsichordist at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin, accompanying his employer who was an accomplished flautist (brilliantly recreated on record by Emmanuel Pahud and Trevor Pinnock), while Johann Christian Bach moved to London, where he was composer to the King’s Theatre and Queen Charlotte’s music teacher. 

During a prosperous few years, Johann Christian wrote multiple symphonies, keyboard concertos and plenty of choral music. Sadly, he suffered from a mental health crisis and died owing £4,000 – a reminder that even the well-established can be vulnerable.  

Recording of the week

The Lark Ascending

Ralph Vaughan WilliamsThe Lark Ascending is regularly voted the nation’s favourite piece of music – it topped Classic FM’s Hall of Fame for the 12th time last year – and there are no shortage of recordings. So it was a bold move for violinist Hyeyoon Park and pianist Benjamin Grosvenor to release a new EP of this much-loved music. The Decca Classics recording is sublime, bringing with it a comforting message that spring will soon be here again, and the lark will fly once more.  

Claire Jackson is a writer and editor

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Advertisement

Every copy counts this Winter

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Winter. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Winter.

Recommended for you

Read All
Sex Pistols reunion would be ‘like riding a bike’ says bassist Glen Matlock
Punk

Sex Pistols reunion would be ‘like riding a bike’ says bassist Glen Matlock

Sam Smith is an unequivocal force for good... by being brilliantly themselves
appreciation

Sam Smith is an unequivocal force for good... by being brilliantly themselves

Radiohead legend Philip Selway takes us on a Strange Dance
Interview

Radiohead legend Philip Selway takes us on a Strange Dance

'We're all Tory MPs now': Sleaford Mods take aim at Jeremy Clarkson, Piers Morgan and Nadine Dorries in new video
Music

'We're all Tory MPs now': Sleaford Mods take aim at Jeremy Clarkson, Piers Morgan and Nadine Dorries in new video

Most Popular

Read All
Lauren Layfield: 'Normal men, innocent men' and me
1.

Lauren Layfield: 'Normal men, innocent men' and me

Here's when people will get the next cost of living payment in 2023
2.

Here's when people will get the next cost of living payment in 2023

Where to find grants for furniture and carpets in 2023
3.

Where to find grants for furniture and carpets in 2023

Scotland aims to cut car use by creating '20-minute neighbourhoods' in net zero push
4.

Scotland aims to cut car use by creating '20-minute neighbourhoods' in net zero push