Original libretto in English and Spanish. All-Spanish libretto also available.
- cl(asx), tpt(flugel), btbn, perc, acn, gtr, pf, str(188.8.131.52.1 minimum)
- cl(asx), tpt(flugel), perc, acn, pf, vn
- chorus [opt]
- Mezzo Soprano, Baritone, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, 3 Calaveras (death figures), character voices
- 2 hr
- Book by Hilary Blecher. Lyrics and monologues by Migdalia Cruz.
- English, Spanish
FRIDA KAHLO: Mezzo-soprano
DIEGO RIVERA: Baritone
WOMAN I (CRISTINA KAHLO / MRS. FORD): Soprano
WOMAN II (DITMAS' MOTHER / LUPE MARIN /
MRS. ROCKEFELLER / NATALIA TROTSKY): Mezzo-soprano
MAN I (ALEJANDRO / MR. FORD / LEON TROTSKY): Tenor
MAN II (PETATE VENDOR / CACHUCHA / GUILLERMO KAHLO /
MR. ROCKEFELLER / EDWARD G. ROBINSON): Bass-baritone
THREE CALAVERAS: three treble voices (two women and one man)
Sung in both Spanish and English, Frida is the story of renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, wife of the country’s great muralist Diego Rivera. 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.
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."