Cincinnati Opera's visually rich 'Frida' -- and related exhibits -- is a feast for the eyes and ears

Museums, galleries join in the appreciation

CINCINNATI -- Buying tickets to Cincinnati Opera's "Frida" is like paying tuition for a mini-art history course.

The production, running June 23 through July 8, examines the passionate life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Sung in both English and Spanish, "Frida" is a visually rich opera that incorporates replicas of Kahlo's artwork in the set, as well as large, symbolic props and projections -- a giant anatomically correct heart, a moth, a twisted spinal cord -- to illustrate the events and ideas that shaped her and her work.

"The artwork comes to life on stage," said Evans Mirageas, Cincinnati Opera artistic director. "The heart, with all its veins and arteries snaking across the stage -- there's no better symbol for Frida and Diego (Rivera)."

This spring, the opera celebrated Kahlo and the music of "Frida" in a series of events: Art After Dark with Cincinnati Art Museum; a young professionals' happy hour at Frida 602, the Covington restaurant named after the artist; and a bilingual Opera Goes to Church performance at the Church of Our Saviour in Mount Auburn.

More opportunities to learn about Kahlo will be available during the run of "Frida," thanks to a variety of partnerships, including those with the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Weston Art Gallery.

"This isn't a new opera, but it certainly is a contemporary opera. People don't know this opera like they do a classic … they want information," said Kemper Florin, community manager for Cincinnati Opera.

This scene in Cincinnati Opera's production of "Frida" dramatizes the moment Frida Kahlo was seriously injured in a tram accident that fractured her pelvis and twisted her spine.

"Frida" debuted in 1991, dramatizing a life already operatic in its extremes. Kahlo contracted polio as a child, and the physical disabilities caused by the disease were exacerbated by a bus accident in her teens that fractured her pelvis and twisted her spine. She endured pain and surgeries her entire life. She met artist Diego Rivera through the Mexican Communist Party, and while their relationship was long-lasting, it also was tumultuous, full of fights and extramarital affairs.

Kahlo is famous for her self-portraits but also sat often for other artists. Cincinnati photographer Bernard Silberstein took a series of portraits of Kahlo in the 1940s, and the Cincinnati Art Museum has launched a digital exhibit of these photos, which also were shown last year during "Frida in Focus" at University of Cincinnati.

Catalina Cuervo portrays Frida Kahlo in the Cincinnati Opera's production of "Frida." (Photo provided by John F. Martin)

Catalina Cuervo, who portrays Kahlo in "Frida," is scheduled to discuss the artist's life with museum officials in an upcoming podcast, Florin said.

You can look at some of Silberstein's Kahlo portraits in person during the run of "Frida" at the Aronoff Center for the Arts by stopping into the adjoining Weston Art Gallery. Silberstein's son, Edward B. Silberstein, who serves on the Cincinnati Opera's board of directors, contributed the portraits, and they will be interspersed throughout the exhibit, "Un Teatro Nuovo."

If you're really serious about learning more about Kahlo, buy tickets for the July 6 performance of "Frida." July 6 is Kahlo's birthday, and on that day, Adriana Zavala, a Tufts University professor and expert on the artist, will join Opera artistic director Mirageas for the usual preshow Opera Insights discussion. Opera Insights happens in the lobby an hour before each show and is free to all ticket holders.

Mirageas said he hopes people enjoy the glorious music of "Frida" but also leave the Aronoff "with a new respect for how artists paint their lives."

"Frida painted her pain, and Diego painted his politics," Mirageas said. "...They channeled their gifts into something timeless and powerful that we still enjoy today."

"Frida" runs two hours and 30 minutes and is sung in English and Spanish. (The Spanish sections have English subtitles.)

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