AUSTIN, Texas — A Spanish-language opera about iconic artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera has been co-commissioned by the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, the Fort Worth Opera, the San Diego Opera and DePauw University.
The commissioning partners have engaged Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz and Latin Grammy winner, pianist and classical composer Gabriela Lena Frank to create the new work, “The Last Dream of Frida & Diego,” which will be an homage to Mexican culture and its traditions. The opera will premiere at the Fort Worth Opera in spring 2020, at the San Diego Opera in 2021 and at the Butler Opera Center in UT’s College of Fine Arts in February 2021.
More details about the commission will be announced during a bilingual news conference Aug. 24 at Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City’s opulent concert hall and cultural arts center.
“Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were enormously influential 20th-century artists in both Mexico and the United States. We’re delighted to give our students an opportunity to participate in the creation of an original opera celebrating the lives and influence of these artists,” said Doug Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. “The University of Texas production will use this work as a vehicle for employing cutting-edge performance technologies that are being developed and taught in our new program in Arts and Entertainment Technologies.”
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). Diego Rivera walks among the worshipers as they prepare for the return of the spirits to the world, singing with joy and anticipation. Surrounded by sugar-coated skulls, candles and fragrant marigold flowers, he longs to see his deceased lover Frida Kahlo one last time 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, with the knowledge that the dead can never touch the living. For only 24 hours, Frida and Diego relive their tumultuous love affair through their paintings, embracing the passion they shared and the pain they inflicted upon each other.
“Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera greatly influenced American art and visual artists, muralists, graphic designers and sculptors,” said Tuomas Hiltunen, general director at the Fort Worth Opera. “Their idiosyncratic style and commitment to social equality continue to inspire artists and art enthusiasts around the globe. This compelling new work, featuring Nilo Cruz’s haunting libretto set to music by one of the most innovative composers working today, Gabriela Lena Frank, perfectly embodies Fort Worth Opera’s commitment to community-driven storytelling and programming.”
“The Butler Opera Center looks forward to celebrating the extraordinary story of Kahlo and Rivera in our 2022 production of ‘The Last Dream of Frida & Diego,’” said Robert Desimone, director of the Butler Opera Center. “Our program is committed to giving our students opportunities to perform new work, and we’re thrilled to be part of this new commission.”