About The Opera
Music by Robert Xavier Rodríguez
Book by Hilary Blecher
Lyrics and monologues by Migdalia Cruz
...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.” - Time Magazine
"I never paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality." Famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo lived as she painted—with pain and passion in bold, vibrant colors. This celebration of Kahlo's vivacious spirit, sexuality, fragility and her tumultuous life with muralist Diego Rivera is captured with music as rich and haunting as her art.
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, the score features mariachi-style orchestration with authentic Mexican folk songs and dances and the composer's own "imaginary folk music," tangos and colorations of zarzuela, ragtime, vaudeville and 1930's jazz — "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 used 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.
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." In a musical metaphor for Frida's unique persona, her vocal line is scored with its own characteristic rhythms. As Rodríguez observes, "Frida sings as she lived — against the tide from the very first note."
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Frida Kahlo de Rivera, born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón, was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits. Kahlo's life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home, which is known as "La Casa Azul," the Blue House. Her work has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and indigenous traditions, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
Mexican culture and tradition are important in her work, which has been sometimes characterized as naïve art or folk art. Her work has also been described as surrealist, and in 1938 André Breton, principal initiator of the surrealist movement, described Kahlo's art as a "ribbon around a bomb". Frida rejected the "surrealist" label imposed by Breton, as she argued that her work reflected more of her reality than her dreams.
Kahlo had a volatile marriage with the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. She suffered lifelong health problems, many of which were caused by a traffic accident she survived as a teenager. Recovering from her injuries isolated her from other people, and this isolation influenced her works, many of which are self-portraits. Kahlo suggested, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best." Frida Kahlo Timeline
I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.” - Frida Kahlo
Robert Xavier Rodríguez
Rodríguez was born on June 28, 1946 in San Antonio, Texas. He studied composition with Hunter Johnson, Halsey Stevens, Jacob Druckman, and Nadia Boulanger. He gained international recognition in 1971 when awarded the Prix de Composition Musicale Prince Pierre de Monaco by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace at the Palais Princier in Monte Carlo. Other honors include the Prix Lili Boulanger, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four National Endowment for the Arts grants, and the Goddard Lieberson Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Rodríguez's music embraces all genres and often combines Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque techniques with ethnic and contemporary materials. He has had particular success with his operas. His most recent, the one-act comedy La Curandera, has been produced in Colorado, California, and Texas. Frida, had acclaimed productions at the American Music Theatre Festival, The American Repertory Theatre in Boston, the Brooklyn Academy's Next Wave Festival, Vienna Schauspielhaus, Theater Nordhausen in Germany, Mexico’s Jalisco Filharmonica, and the Houston Grand Opera. Rodríguez's children's opera Monkey See, Monkey Do is one of the most frequently performed contemporary operas in the US, with over 2000 performances to date.
Sung in both Spanish and English, Frida is the story of renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, wife of the country’s great muralist Diego Riviera. Her tortured life unfolds in a flowing succession of scenes, acted and sung by three woman and three men in a variety of guises - masked or plain-faced and as two- or three-dimensional puppets; shadow puppets and projections are also involved. Diego’s preoccupation with art and other women shrivel Frida’s soul and her demands for love drain him; they need one another desperately. Divorce is imminent. Frida’s health deteriorates; only painting permits emotional release, translating her agonies into a series of canvases. Her fate is to live alone, engulfed by pain, but her paintings live forever, reflecting hidden dreams and inspiring courage to transcend conventional boundaries.
Mexico City 1923. Young and unruly Frida at school, sees a Mother, who is begging a Petate (straw mat) to bury her son. Frida is moved by the poverty she sees. Frida witnesses a celebration of the Zapatista movement and takes heart in the promise of the revolution.
Frida's Room, Coyoacan. Frida tells her sister Christina about her expectations of life upon coming of age.
Mexico City. Frida and her boyfriend Alejandro board a bus. The bus crashes, Frida is severly injured, but resolved to live and to begin her life as a painter.
Diego's Mural at the Preparatoria. Rivera paints his wife Lupe. Frida enters and presente her portfolio to Diego. He is fascinated by Frida, eventually he leaves his Lupe and askes Frida to marry him. At the wedding Lupe appears and makes a futile attempt to win Diego back.
Diego's Studio. Frida and Diego are interrupted by rebolutionaries. They denounce Diego as an artist and tell him he is finished in Mexico. The Riveras resolve to try their luck in the USA.
New York City. Frida and Diego attend a dinner party hosted by the Fords and Rockefellers. Rockefeller commisisons a mural.
The RCA Building, Rockefeller Center, New York. Diego works on Man at the Crossroads. Frida is in despair at being unable to bear a child. Rockefeller complains about including Lenin in the mural. The mural is destroyed and Frida miscarries. They return to Mexico.
San Angel, Mexico. Frida espresses her joy at being home in Mexico. Diego is misearble. Frida ignores the parade of women through Diego's bedroom, but is horrified to discover her sister, Christina, among them.
San Angel, Mexico. Leo Trotsky and his wife join the Riveras in their house. Frida and Trotsky have a love affair. Diego and Frida seperate.
Frida's Bath. Frida retreats to the seclusion of her bath and the comfort of a female lover.
New York. Frida has a love affair with photographer Nicholas Murray. Back in Mexico Diego convinces American actor Edward G. Robinson to purchase some of Frida's work. Diego urges Frida to persue her carreer without him. Frida and Diego divorce.
Frida's Imagination. Haunted by her physical and emotional pain, Frida joines the Calaveras (Mexican death figures) in depicting imagery from her paintings The Broken Column, The Little Deer, and Self Portrait With Monkeys.
Finale - Frida's Hospital Bed. In delirium, Frida relives episodes of her life, including the assassination of Trotsky. Diego returns and proposes to remarry her. She agrees, reminding him that she is now her own creation, independent of him. She departs with a cry of "Viva, la vida... allegría...and Diego."
Puerto Rican mezzo-soprano Laura Virella makes her company debut with Long Beach Opera in the title role of Frida, continuing to carve her place in modern opera after her recent success as Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw with MMF and DC Public Opera. Hailed as a “fabulous, powerful and excellent Carmen” (Festival de Santa Florentina), and an “impressive, fervent Octavian” (Stefaniensaal, Graz), her wide list of operatic roles includes Maddalena (Rigoletto), Frau Reich (Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor), Cherubino, Dorabella, Prince Charmant, Hänsel, Desideria (The Saint of Bleecker Street), and more. www.lauravirella.com.
Venezuelan American lyric baritone Bernardo Bermudez. Roles include Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Silvio in Pagliacci, Escamillo in Carmen, Valentin in Faust, Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, the title role in Don Giovanni, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, Vidal Hernando in Luisa Fernanda, Schaunard in La Boheme, Aeneas in Dido & Aeneas. He participated as a voice fellow in Summer Festivals at The Music Academy of the West, as well as Opera North. Awards include Opera Buffs Grant recipient, semifinalist in the Loren L. Zachary Vocal Competition.
Jonathan made his New York City Opera debut in the role of “Wissam” in Raffo & Stokes’ Fallujah. He debuted with Long Beach Opera in the same role March 2016. Other credits include “Joe” in Gershwin’s Blue Monday (Opera de Tijuana), Jose from Carmen and Lensky from Eugene Onegin (Opera of The Rockies), Prince Charming in Cendrillon, Parpignol in La Boheme, Beppe in Donizetti’s Rita, Giuseppe in The Most Happy Fella, Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas (Point Loma Opera Theatre). Other work includes San Diego Opera’s outreach program OperaExposed! with Dr. Nicolas Reveles. Study in Voice with Dr. John Craig Johnson and Ines Irawati.
Alejandra Martinez, soprano, is a native of Southern California and specializes in Spanish and Latin-American music. Concert credits include performances at the National Council de la Raza, the Cleveland One World Festival, and the world premiere of Juan Orrego-Salas' Ash Wednesday with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra. Favorite opera roles have been La Contessa (Le nozze di Figaro), Salud (La vida breve), and Lady Billows (Albert Herring). Ms. Martinez was recently honored by the National Society of Arts and Letters and regularly performs in outreach programs with Reimagining Opera for Kids in Bloomington, Indiana.
Mexican-American soprano Joanna Ceja is a multifaceted, natural, and entertaining vocalist from Denton, Texas. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education from Texas Woman’s University and is an active musician in Texas and California. Joanna’s operatic engagements include the roles of Susanna from Le nozze di Figaro in Austin, Texas with Spotlight on Opera, and Papagena from The Magic Flute at her alma mater, TWU. Joanna is currently attending the University of Southern California for her Master of Music degree in Vocal Arts, and studies with Elizabeth Hynes.
Stage Director/Production Designer
Since 2003, Mitisek has been LBO's Artistic & General Director. Recent LBO directing credits: The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, King Gesar, Macbeth, Tell-Tale Heart, Van Gogh, The Paper Nautilus, Ainadamar, and Maria de Buenos Aires. Recent LBO conducting credits:Thérèse Raquin, I was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky, The Death of Klinghoffer, Camelia la Tejana, and The Fall of the House of Usher (co-production with COT). Other conducting credits: Joruri in Tokyo, Don Giovanni (Seattle Opera), Madama Butterfly (Orlando Opera), Jane Eyre (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis) and Eugene Onegin (Teatro Municipal in Santiago de Chile). Mitisek has also conducted the Austrian and Italian premieres of Nixon in China. In 2012, Andreas joined Chicago Opera Theater as General Director.
Kristof Van Grysperre
Kristof Van Grysperre, a native of Belgium, most recently conducted for LBO Candide, Hydrogen Jukebox, An American Soldier’s Tale/Fiddler’s Tale and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. Hailed by the Orange County Register as “gifted and stylistically impeccable” and as “a conductor with pugilistic power and sensitivity” he has an international career as conductor, pianist, chamber musician and vocal coach. With a repertoire of over fifty operas, Van Grysperre conducted performances for Opera Pacific, Baltimore Opera Studio, Intimate Opera Company, SongFest and USC Opera. He has collaborated with leading instrumentalists and singers, such as Angela Meade, Maria Newman, Philip Webb and Susan Mohini Kane, and is the artistic director of Angels Vocal Art. www.vangrysperre.com