There may never be a more potent opera subject than Frida Kahlo and her volcanic relationship with Diego Rivera. Frida, Robert Xavier Rodriguez’ 1991 opera about the iconic Mexican visual artists, is making an overdue New Mexico premiere, thanks to Albuquerque’s Opera Southwest, with three performances at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
Throughout their romance, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, Kahlo and Rivera raised the concept of creative friction to new heights. While they were each creating masterful art — she with 55 unsparingly honest self-portraits that chronicled every aspect of her life and he with murals that celebrated Mexican culture, Marxism, and the dignity of the working man — their life together was full of passion, fights, jealousies, forgiveness, substance abuse, and multiple miscarriages. Rivera had affairs with many other women, including Frida’s beloved younger sister Cristina; she had affairs with other men, including famed Marxist Leon Trotsky, as well as with several women.
Add in the opportunity to make use of their striking visual art and a hit opera seems almost a certainty. At least it seemed that way to Hilary Blecher, who developed the concept and co-wrote the text with Latina playwright Migdalia Cruz. Texas-born composer Rodriguez came on board soon afterward and their Frida premiered to glowing reviews in April 1991 at Philadelphia’s American Music Theater Festival.