Repertoire Search

Robert Xavier Rodríguez

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Frida (1991)
Text Writer
Book by Hilary Blecher. Lyrics and monologues by Migdalia Cruz.
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
2 Hours 0 Minutes
chorus [opt]
English, Spanish
Solo Instrument(s)
Mezzo-soprano, Baritone, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, 3 Calaveras (death figures), character voices
Alternate Orchestration
cl(asx), tpt(flugel), perc, acn, pf, vn
Programme Note
download brochure
downloadable brochure
Acrobat format
Cast List:
   FRIDA KAHLO: Mezzo-soprano
   DIEGO RIVERA: Baritone
      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.

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."

  • 14 FEB 2020
    Sydney Laurence Theatre / Anchorage, AK / USA
    Anchorage Opera

    Other Dates:
    15,16 February - Sydney Laurence Theatre / Anchorage, AK / USA
  • 08 MAR 2020
    Mexican Heritage Theatre at School of Arts and Culture, San Jose, CA
    Opera Cultura

    Other Dates:
    9,10 March - Mexican Heritage Theatre at School of Arts and Culture, San Jose, CA
  • 20 JUN 2020
    Museum of Latin American Art / Long Beach, CA / USA
    Long Beach Opera

    Other Dates:
    21,27,28 June - Museum of Latin American Art / Long Beach, CA / USA
  • 11 SEP 2020
    Newmark Theatre / Portland, OR / USA
    Portland Opera

    Other Dates:
    13,17,19 September; 3 October - Newmark Theatre / Portland, OR / USA

What sets this contemporary opera apart is not only that it is a new and acclaimed opera, (having been first performed in 1991) or that its subject matter is a biographical account of an LGBTQ icon, but rather that its colorful depiction of Mexican culture is an unapologetic celebration of diversity and inclusion, at a time when we desperately need reminding that there is much beauty and insight to be found when we educate ourselves on another’s history. Suddenly, Frida Kahlo represents so much more than a unibrow and surrealist Mexican folk art…While Frida includes more spoken text than many of the older and more traditional operas, it is Rodriguez’s evocative music that is the binding, expressively bringing the fragments of plot together, often with two or more melodies entwining in a way that creates a lovely dissonance and dramatic tension on stage. The overall effect of this combination of efforts is a powerful and thought provoking display of innovation and contemporary opera, not to mention a healthy amount of confetti. To use a quote from the opera itself, Frida is “bold beauty born of pain.” For opera fans, admirers of Frida Kahlo and her work, or those simply looking for an engaging and enlightening evening of entertainment, look no further than FGO’s Frida.
Erin Dahlgren, Outclique Magazine,24/03/2019
The energy level soared from first note to last. The subject matter was serious and thought provoking but always entertaining and oddly optimistic…The exuberance of a Broadway musical, the gravitas of grand opera and the intimacy of chamber drama co-existed in a fantasy world that just happened to be almost entirely factual… The show – and it’s a show more than an opera – unfolds in a series of vignettes. Gruesome events unfold in stylized pantomime, though not much less painful for that. Rodriguez’s mesmerizing score takes us through a profusion of 20th- and 21st-century styles: from Puccini to Schoenberg, Sondheim to Stravinsky, jazz to rock with mariachi as underpinning to establish the Mexican ambience…
Robert Croan, Palm Beach Arts Paper,19/03/2019
Rodriguez’s score was gripping…The chamber-sized orchestra, augmented by accordion, saxophone, and guitar, brought color and rhythm to the folk-inspired melodies and lent drama to the opera’s darkest scenes… brought Kahlo’s art to life in thoughtful and breathtaking ways…luminous and lurid score undulating as Frida bathed, naked, flanked by male and female lovers...FGO’s Frida was a strange opera – fast-paced, touching, at times darkly comic, esoteric, pained, and colorful.
Carly Gordon, Schmopera,18/03/2019
The music of 'Frida' is eclectic, with typical Mexican elements, jazz and classical postmodernism. Rodríguez comments that his music is "in the style of Gershwin, Sondheim, Kurt Weill, whose tradition dissolves barriers, and extends a common denominator between Opera and Musical Theater.” Conceived with an emphasis on the visual, the dream elements and the color that characterize the work of the painter, this opera exerts a powerful attraction for all admirers of the work of the protagonist and lovers of contemporary opera.
Daniel Fernández, El Nuevo Herald ,18/03/2019
An opera as colorful as artist Frida Kahlo’s life and work, Frida explores the passion and pain and beauty of an important artist. It was genius that Rodriguez chose Kahlo as a subject for his 1991 opera. Her life story sounds almost fictional, or at least as surreal as some of her art. Through Frida, we learn much about her as a woman, a lover, an artist and a Mexican…I found the opera to bridge musical theater and opera, and to do so in a convincing way...I found myself humming the final song in my car on the way home.
Julie Riggott, Culture Spot LA,28/06/2017
an especially vivid and compelling work that has clearly struck a resonant note…
Rick Pender, CityBeat,26/06/2017
Robert Xavier Rodríguez's 1991 opera Frida is an unflinching view of the artist’s lifelong torments as well as her passions…

Rodríguez's musical score…is as complex and richly layered as Frida's personality. It is colored with folkloric Mexican music, jazz, sophisticated modernism, sensuous atmosphere and subtle musical quotations.

It's an inventive hybrid. With its Broadway-style songs, amplified singers, dialogue and monologues, this opera might be just as happy on the musical theater stage.

Cincinnati Opera's production, which coincides with Kahlo's 110th birthday, debuted at Michigan Opera Theatre in 2015. Cincinnati is the 16th city to mount the work.

The opera unfolds in 13 scenes over two acts to a vivid libretto by Hilary Blecher and Migdalia Cruz.
Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer,26/06/2017
Like the lady herself, the opera is bold, colorful, and full of life and passion.
Opera Lively,24/06/2017
Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s Frida, performed at Cincinnati Opera, presents an apt parallel to Kahlo’s own art, with its difference of styles unfailingly put to dramatic use… a Mexican Kurt Weill…with its mixture of popular material (both authentic folk songs and newly-composed material), Rodríguez’s own modernist style and the opera’s sense of high purpose… incorporates folk elements and materials into something entirely new and original.
Joe Law, Opera News,24/06/2017
More than 25 years ago, in 1991, the San Antonio, Texas-born Robert Xavier Rodríguez' captivating, eclectic score portrayed Frida with music that richly conveys her inner pain and prolific struggle to conquer death. Frida is currently enjoying its inexplicably long-delayed Southern California premiere in a lusty, fresh outdoor production by the provocative Long Beach Opera (LBO).
Eric Gordon, People's World,22/06/2017
Rodríguez’s engaging score [has] a snappy capacity to channel all manner of American music theater traditions…For its year-end classical music honors of 1991, the New York Times hailed Frida as the “Best Opera/Music Theater.” By now, Frida has been staged internationally in 15 cities. Cincinnati Opera mounts another new production this week...It’s all there, neatly and concisely packaged, a whirlwind tour of Kahlo’s life. The musical bits fall in place easily...Catchy licks and hooks… like musical flickers… mysterious, miraculous, macabre, brilliantly colored splendor.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,18/06/2017
The opera celebrates the renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, her vivacious spirit, sexuality, fragility, and her tumultuous life with muralist Diego Rivera. Robert Xavier Rodríguez' brilliant score captures Frida with music as rich and haunting as her art.
Broadway World LA,31/05/2017
The best elements of musical theater and opera were on spectacular display in Michigan Opera Theater’s staging of Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s passionate 1991 opera Frida… Like Frida’s paintings and persona, Rodriguez’s opera is emphatic and bold… Emblematic of the stylistic flexibility that has earned comparisons to Kurt Weill and George Gershwin…
Jennifer Goltz, Opera News,01/06/2015
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,11/03/2015
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,08/03/2015
[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,,08/03/2015
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 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,13/09/2009
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,01/01/0001 exciting, long overdue musical biography ...raw, wonderfully dangerous theater.
USA Today,01/01/0001
...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,01/01/0001
Close X

Newsletter Signup

Enter your email address to keep up to date with the latest news and special offers from Music Sales Classical.
Your data is secure and you can unsubscribe at any time. Read our Privacy Policy

Click here to receive regular news
© Copyright 2020 Music Sales Classical. Part of the Music Sales Group.