Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz's new opera 'The Last Dream of Frida and Diego'
24th August 2017
Frida Kahlo, letter to Diego Rivera (1940)
Fort Worth Opera announced the commission and 2020 world premiere of El último sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego), to be written by Latin Grammy-winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, acclaimed author of Anna in the Tropics.
The opera is a co-commission of Fort Worth Opera, San Diego Opera, the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, and DePauw University, with additional support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and OPERA America. Featuring an original Spanish libretto, this significant new work is part of Fort Worth Opera's "Noches de Ópera" and "Opera of the Americas" initiatives.
The commission of El último sueño de Frida y Diego was announced in Mexico City at a press conference in the opulent cultural arts center, Palacio de Bellas Artes, on August 24. At the celebration, Cruz and four Mexican actors read excerpts from the opera's libretto and Frank performed on piano. They have written nine works together over their decade-long creative partnership.
"Frida and Diego were Mexicans, but they were also global citizens," observed Frank. "For me as an artist, I find great inspiration in how they used the specific colors and sounds of their culture to express what is universal. You don't have to be Mexican to be moved by their paintings nor their life stories. I feel that Frida and Diego remind us of our humanity — so important as we currently navigate these early decades of the 21st century feeling so very politically and socially divided. Their art remains as relevant as ever."
Cruz noted, "Through her work, Frida gives us permission to find our own personal relationship to life as well as to make sense of life after trauma. Painting helped her to make sense of the universe. For Diego, painting has to do with humanist philosophical reflection, a way of documenting history and social injustice. They both rescue their roots, their Mexican identity from oblivion. As the Aztecs took out human hearts and offered them to the gods, they offer us their hearts through their art, through the lives they lead as witnesses of life in the universe."
Set in 1957, the opera opens in a cemetery, as Mexico celebrates the annual festival of El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The great muralist Diego Rivera walks among the worshipers as they prepare for the return of the spirits to the world. Surrounded by sugar-coated skulls, candles, and fragrant marigold flowers, he longs to see his deceased lover Frida Kahlo once again before he passes on.
In the afterlife, Catrina, the keeper of the souls, approaches Frida, and explains that Diego desperately needs his beloved angel as the seed of death quickly sprouts within him. Moved by the desires of the departed souls she encounters around her, Frida reluctantly agrees to join him in the world above, with the knowledge that the dead can never touch the living. For only twenty-four hours, Frida and Diego will relive their tumultuous love through their paintings, embracing the passion they shared and the pain they inflicted upon one other.
Gabriela Lena Frank
Born in Berkeley, California, to a mother of Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Frank explores her multicultural heritage most ardently through her compositions. Frank is something of a musical anthropologist. Her pieces reflect and refract her studies of Latin-American folklore, incorporating poetry, mythology, and native musical styles into a western classical framework that is uniquely her own. Over the years, she has written challenging idiomatic works for solo instrumentalists, vocalists, chamber ensembles, and orchestras, and she received the Latin Grammy Award for best Contemporary Classical Music Composition for the guitar quintet Inca Dances (Tonar Label), written for guitarist Manuel Barrueco and the Cuarteto Latinoamericano.
Cruz is a Cuban-American playwright and pedagogue. He is also the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Anna in the Tropics. His work includes Night Train to Bolina, Dancing on her Knees, and Lorca in a Green Dress. Cruz has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including two NEA/TCG National Theatre Artist Residency grants, a Rockefeller Foundation grant, San Francisco's W. Alton Jones award, and a Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays award. Cruz wrote the book for the Frank Wildhorn musical Havana and adapted Ann Patchett's 2001 novel Bel Canto for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, with Peruvian composer Jimmy López.
For further information about El último sueño de Frida y Diego, please contact Peggy Monastra.
Quote: Diego my love- remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all, without arguments or anything, only to love one another very much… (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.)