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Robert Xavier Rodríguez

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Frida (1991)
Text Writer
Book by Hilary Blecher. Lyrics and monologues by Migdalia Cruz.
Publisher
G Schirmer Inc
Category
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1991
Duration
2 Hours 0 Minutes
Chorus
chorus [opt]
Language
English, Spanish
Solo Instrument(s)
Mezzo soprano, Baritone, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, 3 Calaveras (death figures), character voices
Alternate Orchestration
cl(asx)/tpt(flugel).tbn/perc/acn.gtr.pf/vn.va.vc.db
Programme Note
Cast List:

   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)

Synopsis:

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.

Related works:
   Frida Concert Suite for large ensemble



View Full Score - Act II
View Vocal Score - Complete

Program note:

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."

Performances
Date
Title
  • 07 MAR 2015
    Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, Detroit, MI
    Michigan Opera Theatre

    Other Dates:
    8 March - Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, Detroit, MI
    21,22 March - The Berman Center for the Performing Arts, Detroit, MI
    28 March - The Detroit Film Theatre, Detroit, MI
  • 24 OCT 2014
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Microscopic Opera

    Other Dates:
    25-27 October; 1,2 November - Pittsburgh, PA
  • 01 JUL 2012
    Kentfield, CA
    Contemporary Opera Marin

    Other Dates:
    22 July - Kentfield, CA
  • 15 JUN 2012
    Kentfield, CA
    Contemporary Opera Marin
    Paul Smith, conductor

    Other Dates:
    22,24,30 June - Kentfield, CA
  • 10 SEP 2009
    Syracuse, NY
    Society for New Music
    Robert Xavier Rodriguez, conductor

    Other Dates:
    11 September - Syracuse, NY

Reviews
Composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez's 1991 opera Frida, which tells the story of the tormented Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, is a hybrid piece of musical theater.

Perched halfway between the opera house and Broadway, the work features spoken dialogue, amplified singers and an eclectic and clever score pulsating with the spirit of Mexican folk music, swing, classical modernism and musical quotation.

At its best, the production that opened Saturday at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts — a collaboration with Michigan Opera Theatre — offered the kind of dramatic intensity and immediacy that's too often missing in performances of standard repertory works.
Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press,3/11/2015
You can’t capture protean Mexican artist Frida Kahlo any more than you can catch the wind, but Michigan Opera Theatre, in a co-production with the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, comes close to nabbing this free spirit — at least for the duration of the opera Frida.

Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s 1991 work, which saw its Midwest premiere at a crowded Macomb Center Saturday night, does a mostly admirable job of telling the story of the turbulent, passionate and painful life of Kahlo (1907-54)…

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. Only 11 musicians performed in the pit, and Suzanne Mallare Acton conducted them with panache, which no doubt pleased Rodriguez, who was in attendance.
George Bulanda, Detroit News,3/8/2015
[Five-star rating.]

Frida is an emotional explosion of of music and color and truth that surely the artist herself would have enjoyed.

The much anticipated Michigan Opera Theatre production of Frida opened last night at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts. This contemporary opera, composed by the gifted and prolific Texas native Robert Xavier Rodriguez, paints a musical portrait of the tumultuous life of Mexican artist, activist and icon Frida Kahlo. The book is by Hilary Blecher with lyrics and monologues by Migdalia Cruz.

It is such a treat.

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.
Patty Nolan, Examiner.com,3/8/2015
Of all the performing arts, only opera is big enough to communicate the complex and tumultuous life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo....The success of Robert X. Rodriguez's Frida...is testament to his talent....All elements of this production work in pleasing balance and perfect union to capture the full range of Kahlo's persona. It is, in turn, fragile, rugged, ethereal and earthy.
Syracuse Post-Standard, Linda Loomis,9/13/2009
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.
John Rockwell, New York Times,1/1/0001
...an exciting, long overdue musical biography ...raw, wonderfully dangerous theater.
USA Today,1/1/0001
...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,1/1/0001
...like a mariachi group for which one has mixed mescaline in the tequila, tradition and distortion meld into a harmonic connection...
Die Neue Furche, ,1/1/0001
The American composer, Robert X. Rodríguez has made a musical of Frida Kahlo's life and suffering, in fact a sensationally good one. Violin, doublebass, guitar, clarinet and saxophone, trumpet, accordion, piano and percussion — the man does not need more to create extraordinarily evocative and wide-ranging worlds in sound. Boisterous Fiesta-Mexicana-strumming alternates with a brandy-soaked ballroom atmosphere, drama alternates with intimacy, poetry with bombast... Enormously charismatic, varied, full of nuance...It is all here and wonderful. Five stars deluxe.
Stefan Ender, Der Standard,1/1/0001
Robert Rodríguez wrote an opera about the painter Frida Kahlo with impressive music and drew from Copland and Bernstein, from musicals, from Kurt Weill, [and] from international as well as Mexican folklore. It shows yet again that if someone is seriously interested in chamber operas, a repertory exists today that reaches far beyond baroque and rococo opera...Thank you, Señor compositor, for the beautiful music.
Derek Weber, Salzburger Nachrichten,1/1/0001
...this is the stuff of which myths are born.
Neuen Volksblatt , ,1/1/0001
...In Rodriguez's work is a richness that goes beyond adjectives…Some rejected the title "opera" to brand it as a Broadway musical....Others compared it to a Mozart singspiel....What is important is that there was not a single individual that didn't applaud Rodríguez's seductive and refined language....There are very few composers with the intelligence and sense of humor to fuse new and traditional sonorities with unusual rhythms and melodies....I don't know what I enjoyed the most: the plasticity of the images,…the languid sensuality of the interludes in which piano, accordion and percussion made the atmosphere vibrate, the clever way in which her accident "...in the year 25..." was recreated in corrido rhythm...or the moving final aria that made us shed tears...
Lázaro Azar, La Reforma (Mexico City),1/1/0001
Sensational! Impacting! Magnificent! These are some of the enthusiastic words uttered by the public who attended the performance of the opera Frida last Friday at the Teatro Degollado. My mind is still full of the images and sounds of this work, which has had many successful performances in the United States and Germany since its creation in 1991. The opera is vibrant with life, expressing Frida's motto "¡Viva la vida!" Those of us who attended were privileged to see it. And who was most responsible for this work's impact?....The most important person here was the composer, Robert Rodríguez, who achieved a felicitous fusion of spoken dialogue, popular music and complex operatic music full of lyricism and passion...
Charles Nath, El Informador (Guadalajara),1/1/0001
The story is told smoothly and efficiently, often with subtle humor, always with a clear focus on the internal life of the main character. Frida is, at the same time, fragile and strong, idealistic and sensual, profoundly serious and devastatingly fun-loving...
María Isabel Sánchez, Magazinemx (Guadalajara),1/1/0001
The ovation for the Spanish premiere of the opera Frida lasted for eight minutes....The sold-out audience rose and showered the stage with red and white carnations....Many audience members participated in the spectacle by coming to the theater dressed as Frida (Kahlo) and Diego (Rivera).
Franco Daniel Gómez, El Universal (Guadalajara),1/1/0001
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