Opera in Two Acts
Duration: Full Evening
Commissioned by the American Music Theater Festival (now Prince Theater)
Recording of Concert Suite from Frida: CRI CD 824,
Reviews of American Productions:
The Best Opera/Musical Theater of 1991 ...a fascinating, magically engrossing evening ...The music is subtle and atmospheric ...genuinely original and genuinely accessible, a neat combination not that often achieved.
...an exciting, long overdue musical biography ...raw, wonderfully dangerous theater.
...high drama ...conveys the radiance and explosive fury of the woman whose art was, in the words of André Breton, “a ribbon around a bomb.”
‘FRIDA’: A fierce portrait of Kahlo...intense and impassioned ...a bio drama/performance piece/puppet show/monologue carried off as an operatic danse macabre ...relentless ...searing ...harrowing ... richly imaginative ...Frida’s remarkable.
...thrilling score by Robert Xavier Rodríguez ...
Rodríguez opera Frida a triumphant experience
The best elements of musical theater and opera were on spectacular display in Michigan Opera Theater’s staging of Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s passionate 1991 opera Frida…Like Frida’s paintings and persona, Rodriguez’s opera is emphatic and bold…Emblematic of the stylistic flexibility that has earned comparisons to Kurt Weill and George Gershwin…
Reviews of European Productions:
Formidable [European] premiere of the musical Frida at the Vienna Schauspielhaus
A Fiesta for Frida
In a Mexican way
...Rich musical material... colorful gestures... portray Frida’s psychologically varied states... folkloric roots find a harmonious coexistence with Broadway. Occupying its own Utopian space, the music plays both to the ear as well as the soul...
Praise for the chamber opera
The music clearly represents an unconventional life that couldn’t have been lived more emotionally, passionately and eccentrically.
... elegant music...
The musicians brought the Mexican fiesta as well as the jazzy party atmosphere of New York to life... The reality [of Frida Kahlo’s life] formed by pain, ambition and love is created on the stage with wit and fantasy...
...conveys sweetness without sentimentality
...the musical sounds comment beautifully on the action
Reviews of Mexico Production (100th Anniversary of Frida Kahlo’s Birth):
The Best Homage to Frida
¡Viva la vida!
The Joys and Sufferings of Frida Kahlo
Ovation for the Premiere of the Opera Frida
Reviews from the 2015 Michigan Opera Theatre Production, Starring Catalina Cuervo:
Fiery 'Frida' offers intensity and immediacy
Frida offers the opportunity to hear a well-regarded contemporary work known for its eclectic style. It marries the emotional weight and complexity associated with classical music with the immediacy and clarity of vernacular art. Rodriguez's score, which includes spoken dialogue, explores an aesthetic halfway between the opera house and the Broadway stage…morphs quickly from astringent classical modernism to syncopated ragtime and jazz and the sunburned colors and south-of-the-border rhythms of mariachi music …offered the kind of dramatic intensity and immediacy that's too often missing in performances of standard repertory works…compelling… strong memories linger.
Frida is an emotional explosion of music and color and truth that surely the artist herself would have enjoyed… We are hard-pressed to catalog the many ways Frida satisfies and surprises. At the most basic level, Kahlo’s personal story is fascinating, and there is a certain voyeuristic appeal to seeing her life played out through the dynamic amplification of modern opera. Perhaps the highest praise we can offer is that Frida faithfully represents the passion, pain, energy, defiance, vibrancy, and restless intensity that Frida Kahlo poured into her paintings. These defining emotions are reflected in the soaring music, hypnotic and eerie dancing, authentically surreal production design, and sparkling singing and acting from the ensemble…Do what you must to see this inspiring opera.
…Rodriguez’s score teeters between opera and musical theater, and that’s perfectly fine. So does Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and Street Scene, and they’re all great works. Rodriguez also includes some lively Mexican folk tunes and snatches of tangos and sambas.
Rodríguez describes Frida as being “in the Gershwin, Sondheim, Kurt Weill tradition of dissolving the barriers and extending the common ground between opera and musical theater. In keeping with the Mexican setting of Frida, he has created a unique musical idiom. The score calls for mariachi-style orchestration (with prominent parts for accordion, guitar, violin and trumpet), in which authentic Mexican folk songs and dances are interwoven with the composer’s own “imaginary folk music,” tangos and colorations of zarzuela, ragtime, vaudeville and 1930’s jazz – all fused with Rodríguez’ characteristic “richly lyrical atonality” (Musical America) in a style “Romantically dramatic” (The Washington Post) and full of “the composer’s all-encompassing sense of humor” (The Los Angeles Times).
Among the “stolen” musical fragments developed in Frida (like Stravinsky, Rodríguez says “I never borrow; I steal.”) are such strange musical bedfellows as two traditional Mexican piñata songs (“Horo y fuego” and “Al quebrar la piñata”), two narrative ballads (“La Maguinita” and “Jesusita”), the Communist anthem (“L’Internationale”), Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. And “Spanish speakers might also listen for the rhythm of a familiar Mexican curse growling in the trombone as Lupe (Diego’s former wife) insults Frida and Diego at their wedding.
The orchestra continues its ironic commentary throughout the work. Two examples: as Frida and Diego quarrel about their mutual infidelities, the brass offer a snarling version of the tender Act I love music, “Niña de mi corazon” (Child of my heart); and as Frida’s death figures (calaveras) recreate her self-portrait, as the wounded “Little Deer,” in an affecting ballet sequence, Frida is stabbed, both physically (by the arrow) and musically (by piercing orchestral repetitions of Diego’s demand for a divorce, “You don’t need me anymore”).
Deeper musical characterization is achieved through the extensive use of vocal ensembles. Rodríguez says, “You learn much more about people by watching them not alone, but in conflict with others. Frida and Diego have two powerful love scenes, one at the beginning and one at the end, with one fight after another in between. It’s that fascinating and unpredictable through-line of their relationship that drives the action.” The demanding role of Frida requires not only extensive monologues, both spoken and sung, but also duets, trios, quartets, a quintet, sextet and several larger ensembles, working up to an intricate nine-part “layer-cake samba finale.” In a musical metaphor for Frida’s unique persona, her vocal line is scored with its own characteristic rhythms: often in three-quarter time while the orchestra or the rest of the cast is in duple meter. As Rodríguez observes, “Frida sings as she lived – against the tide from the very first note.”