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Jackie K and the Bullet     19'37" (Part One 8’41”. Part Two 10’56”)
dramatic solo scena/music theater for mezzo soprano and cello

solo music theater for mezzo soprano and cello
What went through Jacqueline Kennedy's
mind in the moments after JFK was shot?

solo music theater for mezzo soprano and cello
What went through her mind as
the world watched her at his funeral?

This dramatic scena/solo music theater for mezzo soprano and cello is in two separate parts. It can be performed as a concert drama or staged.


Thoughts going ‘round and ‘round like an endlessly repeated film loop.
Glamour and repetition turning news into myth.

Part One

The Pink Outfit 8’ 41”
represents Jacqueline Kennedy’s thoughts in the seconds after her husband was shot. Even amid her panic and grief she struggles with the problem of how to control images and create a myth. The movement ends with her utterly determined to control what she can.

The cellist is also on stage and, as well as playing, speaks a refrain which represents the realities of the situation. The refrain repeats unchanged but its words are increasingly split apart by other thoughts crowding in on Jackie’s mind. It uses phrases adapted from ones which Jackie spoke, or heard at the time.

The Refrain:

“These are the wrong clothes.
Take off the glasses, Jackie.
Look left and wave.
Bullet. Car trunk. Reach.
Oh no, no, no.
I mean, ‘I love you, Jack’.
Let cameras see what they’ve done.”

© 2001 by David Ashurst.

Part Two

The Mourning Veil 10’ 56”
Jackie stands musing at her husband’s funeral. She is calmer now and more together. By the end of the piece she has reached a kind of acceptance of the myth which is taking on a life of its own. Her acceptance is uneasy; she knows that in future the myth will define her and limit her freedom.

The cellist speaks a new refrain first as single words embedded in Jackie’s thoughts, then, in the opposite way to Part One, these words increasingly join together in question-and-answer form as Jackie focuses on her new situation.

The Refrain:

“How many bullets?
How many myths?
How many veils?”

© 2001 by David Ashurst.

The Music

In Part One the vocal writing freely mixes melismatic phrases and dramatic declamation. The melismatic elements keep the voice moving and fluid but never stay long in the voice’s outer ranges. The dramatic declamation allows a wide variety of vocal acting to characterise the emotions Jackie is going though at any given moment. This writing is for an opera singer who is also an actor.

Part Two is calmer; much of it has a sad mellowness. It is the ‘slow movement’ if you will. The music is restrained, expressive and cantabile. Although more troubled in the middle Part Two’s beauty makes a moving, still contrast to Part One. The vocal writing is simpler and more confined to the central registers of the voice.

The cellist’s spoken refrains are notated in rhythm and shape but are always spoken.

Vocal Range

solo music theater for mezzo soprano and cello

Most of the writing stays comfortably away from these outer limits, i.e. the music doesn’t ‘live there’.

Optional low chest notes:
There are a very few lower notes – they are optional and can be taken an octave higher. As with most such low chest notes the context and the way they are used can make the difference between effective and impossible. Here they are all quiet and very lightly accompanied.
Part One has one low F, Part Two has two low F sharps, one low G and one extremely optional low E.


The original suggestion for the piece came from Richard Williams.
Good ideas are valuable. Thank you Richard for your generosity.

The specific ideas and the lyrics are by David Ashurst.

Score Extract

Click to read extracts

Extract 1

Extract 2

A page at a glance:

solo music theater for mezzo soprano and cello

First Performance


Composed for Loré Lixenberg mezzo soprano and commissioned with funds from Jackie K and the Bullet was first performed by Loré Lixenberg and Anton Lukoszevieze at English National Opera Studios in November 2001.


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