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

Least Like the Other

Stephanie Dufresne, Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Ronan Leahy in Least Like the Other. Phot: Kip Carroll

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.

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.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Soweto Kinch on ripping up the jazz rulebook and how his new BBC show is building community
Soweto Kinch
Music

Soweto Kinch on ripping up the jazz rulebook and how his new BBC show is building community

How a band formed in an asylum hotel is giving refugees hope: 'Each note comes from the heart'
Ardavan of The Unknowns
Music

How a band formed in an asylum hotel is giving refugees hope: 'Each note comes from the heart'

Iron Maiden legend Bruce Dickinson: 'You don’t need some rock star saying war is a bad thing'
Bruce Dickinson
Letter To My Younger Self

Iron Maiden legend Bruce Dickinson: 'You don’t need some rock star saying war is a bad thing'

Grassroots music venues need your help to survive now more than ever. Here's why
The Nefarious Picaroons play at Fiery Bird in Woking
Venue Watch

Grassroots music venues need your help to survive now more than ever. Here's why

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know