Gabriela Lena Frank’s El último sueño de Frida y Diego made its way to Los Angeles Opera Saturday, winning the hearty audience response it enjoyed in recent San Diego Opera and San Francisco Opera productions. In this opening night performance at The Music Center, Frank’s vividly imagined and brilliantly realized Día de los muertos operatic reunion of Mexico’s most storied painters returned to explore its themes of fame, mortality, and the power of art. Librettist Nilo Cruz shaped the opera around Rivera’s plea to the rulers of the Underworld to send back Kahlo—some three years after her death—to revive his depleted artistic vision and restore her companionship to his lonely existence.Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, San Francisco Opera’s impressive Frida Kahlo, returned in even stronger voice and command in her title role, pairing splendidly with baritone Alfredo Daza, whose portrayal of Diego Rivera has only deepened since he premiered the role with San Diego Opera. His rich baritone fit the role admirably from the start, and he has developed an increasingly sympathetic take on Rivera’s complex character in each successive production.
Catrina, the Underworld’s Keeper of the Dead, has the power to release denizens of the Underworld for a one-day visit to the realm of the living on Día de los muertos, and she persuades the reluctant Frida Kahlo to visit Rivera. Soprano Ana María Martínez, a favorite singer on the Los Angeles Opera roster, gave a robust interpretation of Catrina, although she did not display the fear-inspiring vocal command of Chilean soprano Yaritza Véliz, San Francisco Opera’s amazing Catrina.
Countertenor Key’mon W. Murrah premiered in San Diego the actor Leonardo, a kindred spirit that Kahlo meets in the Underworld and who makes the return trip to the living with Kahlo. His elegant vocal approach successfully ingratiated his character, a Greta Garbo impersonator, to the Music Center audience.
Kudos to the Los Angeles Opera Chorus and Chorus Director Jeremy Frank for bringing such robust, spirited vocal prowess to both the residents of the Underworld and to the villagers Rivera encounters in the cemetery in the opera’s opening scene. Conductor Lina González-Granados and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra gave a colorful and deftly detailed account of Frank’s rich and often magical score.
Mexican director Lorena Maza’s firm hand and clear vision has guided the opera’s dramatic thrust impeccably in each production, taking sensitive advantage of Jorge Ballina’s sumptuous set design and Eloise Kazan bright costumes, both from the original San Diego Opera production.
Los Angeles Opera’s production of Gabriela Lena Frank’s “La último sueño de Frida y Diego” runs from November 18 to December 9, 2023, at The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles.