Viva la vida! Viva la Frida! - a two act opera

staff reports 08/25/09
The role of Frida will be sung by Gina Manziello, a Colgate alum who just earned her Masters at USC.
“Frida”, an opera about the life of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, opens the Society for New Music’s 38th season Sept. 11 and 12th at the Carrier Theater in downtown Syracuse. Frida channeled the pain of a crippling injury & her tempestuous marriage into creating a large body of work that now ranks her as one of the most important women artists of the 20th C. The composer, Robert X. Rodriguez, describes “Frida” as being ‘in the Gershwin, Sondheim, Kurt Weill tradition dissolving barriers and extending the common ground between opera and musical theater.’ Mr. Rodriguez will travel to Syracuse from his home in Texas for the final rehearsals and performances. The libretto is by Hilary Blecher and Migdalia Cruz. Both the Sept. 11 and 12 performances, presented in conjunction with the Spanish Action League, begin at 8 p.m.

The production boasts an outstanding cast of regional singers and dancers. The role of Frida will be sung by Gina Manziello, a Colgate alum who just earned her Masters at USC. Jonathan Michie, a recent Eastman graduate, will assume the role of Diego Rivera. Other leading roles will be sung by Laura Enslin, Bridget Moriarty, Jonathan Howell, Christopher Jackson, Eric Johnson, Nora Fleming, Lillian Choi, and Michael Chellis. Performing secondary roles as Zapatistas and schoolgirls are: Elizabeth Luttinger, Gleydis Merino, Jessica Varona, Adina Martin, Nikolas Jeleniauskas Allen, Diego Davidenko and Alex Graham. The Calaveras singers are Sangeetha Ekambaram, Robert Cowles and Emily Gibson, with Phi Tran joining their ranks as a dancing Calaveras.

Eric Johnson is the stage director, James Welsch the conductor, Barry Steele the lighting/projections designer, Danita Emma the choreographer, Neva Pilgrim the producer and musical preparation, and Juan Cruz the set designer. In addition to choreographing brief dances and the “Wounded Deer” ballet in the opera, Ms. Emma includes dance students from the Spanish Action League as wedding guests and in crowd scenes, while Juan Cruz has assistance in set-painting by Spanish Action League students, along with Stephen Carpenter, a recently retired art teacher from the Syr. City Public Schools, with help from former Danforth students.

James Welsch conducts the chamber orchestra, comprised of such core members of the Society for New Music, CNY’s finest, as Ann McIntyre, violin; Jon Mosbo, viola; David Le Doux, cello; Edward Castilano, DB; Sabine Krantz, piano; Ronald L. Caravan, clarinet/sax; John Raschella, trumpet; Jeff Gray, bass trombone; Rob Bridge, percussion; Eric Pearson, guitar; and Bob Alexander, accordion.

In keeping with the Mexican setting of Frida, Rodriguez has created a unique musical idiom. The score calls for mariachi-style orchestration of 11 instruments 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. Among the ‘stolen’ musical fragments developed in Frida, there are two traditional Mexican piñata songs, two narrative ballads, the Communist anthem, 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.

Deeper musical characterization is achieved through the extensive use of vocal ensembles.

Rodríguez says, “You learn much more about people by watching them 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.”

The Society for New Music in collaboration with the Spanish Action League of Onondaga County present:
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Frida and opera in 2 acts

Music by Robert Xavier Rodriguez

Libretto Hilary Blecher, Migdalia Cruz

8p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 11 and 12
Carrier Theater, Civic Center, Syracuse, NY

Admission: $15, $12 students/seniors

For tickets or more information, e-mail the Society for New Music: or call 245-1689 or 446-5733.

Musical preparation: James Welsch and Neva Pilgrim

Conductor: James Welsch Bequest of A. Conger Goodyear, 1966

Stage Director: Eric Johnson

Lighting/Projections: Barry Steele

Murals for set: Juan Cruz & apprentices

Choreography: Danita Emma

Frida: Gina Manziello
Diego: Jonathan Michie

Woman I: Laura Enslin (Christina Kahlo-Frida’s younger sister, Mrs. Ford)

Woman II: Bridget Moriarty (Dimas’ mother, Lupe Marin-Diego’s wife, Mrs. Rockefeller, Natalia Trotsky)

Man I: Jonathan Howell (Alejandro, Mr. Ford, Leon Trotsky)

Man II: Chris Jackson (Petate Vendor, Cachucha, Mr. Rockefeller)

Eric Johnson (Guillermo Kahlo, Edward G. Robinson)

Solo Chorus: Nora Fleming, Lillian Choi, Christopher Jackson, Michael Chellis

Calaveras: Sangeetha Ekambaram, Robert Cowles, Emily Gibson and dancer Phi Tran

Schoolgirls, Wedding Guests: Adina Martin, Elizabeth Luttinger,

Gleydis Merino, Jessica Varona

Zapatistas, Cachuchas, Communists, Revolutionaries, Wedding Guests:

Nikolas Jeleniauskas Allen, Diego Davidenko, Alex Graham

Ann McIntyre, violin, Jon Mosbo, viola, David Le Doux, cello, Edward Castilano, DB,

Sabine Krantz, piano, Ronald L. Caravan, clarinet/sax, John Raschella, trumpet,

Jeff Gray, bass trombone, Rob Bridge, percussion, Eric Pearson, guitar, Bob Alexander, accordion

CATEGORY: Performing Arts
TAGS: Diego Rivera,iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo,Robert X. Rodriguez,society for new music syracuse,James Welsch,Neva Pilgrim,two act opera,Gina Manziello,colgate alum
EDITION: The Eagle

Rating: 1.7/5 (21 votes cast)

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