Specific examples of their art influenced Cruz’s ideas for the dramatic structure. In “The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl,” from 1949, Kahlo depicts Rivera as a child, embraced by herself and by an earth goddess. Cruz said that from this image he derived the opera’s core concept of Kahlo helping Rivera cross over at the end of his life, three years after her death: “It is a self-portrait that celebrates the union of the Riveras, perhaps in the afterlife, or in a more idealistic and artistic world.”
Rivera’s mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon at Alameda Central Park” (1946-47), which mingles his life story with a political history of Mexico, springs to life at the beginning of second act as the artist is shown painting it. Frida emerges from its composition to re-enter the world of the living.
The director, Lorena Maza, who is from Mexico City, said that she and her design team took their cues from the two painters’ shared love of Indigenous and folk art, as well as their activism. But equally fundamental to the opera’s mise-en-scène are their differences in outlook: the intimacy of the self-portraits that figure so prominently in Kahlo’s work — “each one a battle against pain and disintegration” — and the social realism of Rivera’s epic murals.
“Mainly what we bring to the table is the Mexican view of the story,” Maza said. “What Anglo-Saxon culture knows about the Día de los Muertos, or about Frida and Diego, is a bit different from how we live it. We want to avoid the folkloric, cliché version of this celebration and of these two artists. For us, these are very close, personal characters who have been with us since we were children and who both created a Mexican visual identity for us.”
The opera’s aim, suggested by the final lines of the chorus of departed souls, is to invite us to enter into the world of Frida and Diego, to erase the borderlines between the real and the imagined:
“Life is brief
but the light will follow
the strokes of your paintbrush.
From your paintings emerge,
an anthem of sun,
the glory of your gaze.”