Detroit's 'Frida' Aims To Build Latino Audiences For Opera The opera, based on the tumultuous lives of painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, coincides with a new exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts devoted to the year they lived in the city.

Detroit's 'Frida' Aims To Build Latino Audiences For Opera

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Michigan Opera Theatre's staging a new production of "Frida," an opera about the tumultuous lives of Frida Kahlo, the artist, and her husband, Diego Rivera, the muralist. It's being presented in conjunction with the new exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts that chronicles the year that the couple spent in Detroit. The opera company is also using the occasion to try to build Latino audiences for opera. Veronica Zaragovia, of member station KUT, has more.

VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: At her stall in a Mexico City market, Ofelia Contreras is showing Monika Essen the intricate handwork on an indigenous Mexican skirt.

MONIKA ESSEN: Yeah, that's beautiful.

OFELIA CONTRERAS: Four months for make - every handmake.


ZARAGOVIA: Essen is the costume designer for the Michigan Opera Theatre's revival of "Frida," and she's come here to get the look of the opera right since Kahlo was so particular about her traditional wardrobe.

ESSEN: To really get the authentic quality that I think that we're looking for for this production, I think it was imperative for me to come here and to actually get a sense of who Frida was, where she lived.

ZARAGOVIA: Essen chose roughly 20 pieces of clothing for the Detroit revival of "Frida."


ZARAGOVIA: It's overlapping with "Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo In Detroit" at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The two lived in the city in 1932. The Institute has works by both artists in its collection, including Rivera's acclaimed "Detroit Industry" murals about the city's manufacturing and its workers. It also has Kahlo's "Henry Ford Hospital," a painful oil painting about her miscarriage there.


CATALINA CUERVO: (As Frida) (Singing) My sweet dear boy is dead. My sweet son, all light has died with him.

MIGDALIA CRUZ: She was such an individual that she focused on her own pain and worked her way through it. I think it's really an inspiring story for anyone.

ZARAGOVIA: Migdalia Cruz wrote the lyrics and monologues for the opera.

CRUZ: If I did justice to how beautiful she made her own pain then I have accomplished something very special in writing the play.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) (Singing) Frida, you create something incredible out of this.

CUERVO: (As Frida) Can I be complete without a child to call my own?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) (Singing) Leave your agony on canvas. You'll heal yourself like this.

ZARAGOVIA: The music for "Frida" was composed by Robert Xavier Rodriguez in 1991. He says he's especially happy the work is being revived in Detroit now after the city overcame a difficult bankruptcy without having to break up the Art Institute's collection to pay its bills.

ROBERT XAVIER RODRIGUEZ: It's a sign of good times, hopeful times, when the artists are supported and the people recognize the beauty and wonder of art.

ZARAGOVIA: Excerpts from the opera will be performed for free outside of the Detroit Opera House. Wayne Brown, the Michigan Opera Theatre's president and CEO, says it's important to show that opera isn't just a black-tie affair.

WAYNE BROWN: Clearly from invariant if everyone showed up in mink coats.

ZARAGOVIA: Cleary Frida Kahlo would've been very upset if everyone showed up in mink coats.

ZARAGOVIA: So "Frida" is being performed at venues throughout the city and southeast Michigan to attract young Latinos like Ricardo Barajas, who's seen ads for it on Facebook.

RICARDO BARAJAS: I love anything that has to do with real-life story that's reflected in Hispanic culture. I don't just like going on with my life and not knowing what my culture is.

ZARAGOVIA: Barajas says he's seen the Rivera murals at the museum. Kahlo's own popularity as an artist will also attract audiences, says Colombian soprano Catalina Cuervo, who's playing Frida in the current production.

CUERVO: This is a kind of opera where people go because, oh, I love Frida. Oh, there's a Colombian soprano. Oh, no, I have to go. Oh, she's hot. I'm going to go.

ZARAGOVIA: Yes, this soprano is hot. In a promotional video on the opera's website, Cuervo looks fit, tan and wears a dress with a plunging neckline as she performs a monologue and sings.


CUERVO: (As Frida) (Singing) Death dances round my bed again tonight.

ZARAGOVIA: I went into Detroit's Latino neighborhood with this YouTube video on my phone. At a local bakery, shopper Eloisa Perez tells me opera is boring, but then I show her the video and she says with that soprano, men would go.

ROSIE PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: "Truth is she sings beautifully. It would be really cool if people would go see it and I think I'd be one of them."

PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: If nothing else, soprano Catalina Cuervo hopes Latinos will see they can have a good time at an opera.

CUERVO: This is fun and dramatic and they will love it. They will just be on the edge of their seats, just like with the end of every telenovela (laugher).

ZARAGOVIA: After all, opera is often just a telenovela set to music. For NPR News, I'm Veronica Zaragovia.


CUERVO: (As Frida) I'm hungry for home, Diego. I dream of a boat to sail back to Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Diego) But my work is here now.

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