United States Robert Xavier Rodríguez, Frida: Soloists, Cincinnati Opera / Andres Cladera (conductor), Aronoff Center for the Arts, Cincinnati, OH. 8.7.2017. (RDA)
Frida – Catalina Cuervo
Diego – Ricardo Herrera
Cristina – Jennifer Cherest
Ensemble – Benjamin Lee, Reilly Nelson, Thomas Dreeze, Pedro Andre Arroyo, Emma Sorenson, Erin Keesy, Melissa Harvey, Paulina Villarreal, John Overholt, Samson McCrady
Director – José María Condemi
Designer – Monika Essen
The story of the fatally flawed love between two giants of 20th-century art was brought to life in the colorful Cincinnati Opera production of Frida, on the stage of the Aronoff Center for the Arts.
Director José María Condemi boldly fleshed out the relationship betwen Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. In the mano a mano confrontations between the two, Condemi obtained high-octane results from the principals, and in the large ensemble scenes, aided by the fine choreography of Marco Pelle, he assembled stage pictures worthy of a Rivera mural.
The scenic and costume designs by Monika Essen were as colorful as Kahlo’s canvases. The designer dressed the cast – including the superb singing-dancing ensemble – in riotously theatrical attire.
Composer Robert Xavier Rodríguez is utterly comfortable in the Latin American world of the story, and wrote music that is largely tonal and subtly infused with the melodies of Mexican folk song. Rodríguez writes well for the voice, providing the two central characters with a mix of free-flowing conversational passages and arioso solo turns.
Catalina Cuervo owns the role of Frida Kahlo. A petite Hispanic woman with long raven-black hair and a substantial soprano, Cuervo was by turns imperiously self-assertive, and cawed by Rivera’s larger-than-life character. She can summon at will the demons that followed Kahlo to her grave, and then exorcise them in the arms of Rivera, a lover a decade older, all in a memorable career-defining performance.
Ricardo Herrera, younger and handsomer than the paunchy middle-aged Rivera we know from many photographs, sang beautifully and projected the alluring personality of the self-centered artist with a marvelous mix of machismo and Hispanic charm.
Jennifer Cherest was note-perfect in the important role of Cristina, Frida’s sister. In the ensemble, Benjamin Lee, Reilly Nelson, Thomas Dreeze, Pedro Andre Arroyo, Emma Sorenson, Erin Keesy, Melissa Harvey, Paulina Villarreal, John Overholt, and Samson McCrady integrated the chameleonic singing, dancing, and acting, playing over fifteen roles among them.
Andres Cladera conducted the chamber orchestra and singers with assurance – a very fine performance of a recent work deserving a welcome into the canon.
Rafael de Acha