Tucked away in Pittsburgh is The Microscopic Opera Company, a teeny and relatively new theatrical company that, according to many people who have seen their productions, have huge impacts on audiences.
They have a permanent home at the Eddy Theater, located on the campus of Chatham University (1 Woodland Road).
Tonight the curtain goes up on Frida, a two-act opera based on the life of the exceptional painter Frida Kahlo. The company has revealed too little information on Frida save the names and credits of crew and cast members. We do know the opera has music by Robert Xavier Rodriguez and libretto by Hilary Blecher and Migdalia Cruz, and the seven-piece chamber orchestra is under the direction of Robert Frankenberry.
And we found out Raquel Winnica-Young plays Kahloand Sean Donaldson plays Rivera.
So will will tell you about the real Frida, praying the opera gets close to the truth.
Frida Kahlo is considered one Mexico’s most famous artists, and most of her works were self-portraits. Her life was riddled with pain: She contracted polio at six, and was forced to stay bedridden for nine months. Her right foot and leg were damaged and Frida walked with a limp, but her devoted father encouraged her to play soccer, swim, even wrestle, to help her leg heal properly. (In 2006, a team of Lithuanian researchers argued that Kahlo also had spina bifida, a birth defect that can cause deformities of the legs and spine and create chronic pain.)
Kahlo had a thing about facial hair: Her eyes were never tweezed and she had a major unibrow and a noticable mustache. Being hirsute was celebrated in her works, but we noticed the poster for Frida shows an unibrow that is not close enough to being a Frida facsimile, and the hairy upper lip is non-existent.
So we offer you a photo of the real Frida. Look closely; she did not shave.
On September 17, 1925, Kahlo was riding in a bus with close school chum Alejandro Gómez Arias; the bus collided with a trolley car. Frida was impaled by a iron handrail that pierced her abdomen and uterus. The injuries also included a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot and a dislocated shoulder.
Kahlo spent three months recovering in a full body cast, painting while in bed. Extreme pain haunted her throughout her entire life. Kahlo underwent at least 30 operations, mainly on her back, her right leg, and her right foot.
She (almost) seemed immune to such relentless pain: Kahlo had a “brutal attitude” toward pain, and she wasn’t afraid of glorifying it. And so she did, in so many of her works. “I am not sick,” she once said. “I am broken, but I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint. “
When famed muralist Diego Rivera was working on a mural called The Creation at Freda’s school’s lecture hall, she eyed him and told a friend she was fascinated by the “larger than life” man whom she nicknamed “Panzon” (fat belly), and that she would someday “have Rivera’s baby” Her wish was impossible from the permanent damage to her reproductive system. Frida did become pregnant three times and all babies had to be aborted.
Their marriage was on August 21, 1929. Frida’s mother did not approve, stating that Diego was “too old, too fat and worse yet he was a Communist and an atheist.” She described the marriage as being: “a marriage between an elephant and a dove.”
It was a tumultuous union and Frida was left alone. She slept with other men and sundry women; he slept with other women. They divorced, they remarried.By the end of 1935 Frida and Diego reconciled after a divorce, yet they lead separate lives. Frida kept to herself on one side of the duplex structure and Diego on the other. Although the two separate quarters were connected on the top level by a foot bridge, the door leading to Frida’s side could be, and always was, locked from the inside.”I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” Kahlo once said. “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.”
More sickness. In 1953, her leg was amputated, a result of gangrene that the researchers believe she contracted during an unnecessary surgery. More pain. Addiction to drugs.
She knew the end was near.
“They amputated my leg six months ago, they have given me centuries of torture and at moments I almost lost my reason. I keep on waiting to kill myself,” she wrote in her diary. “I hope the exit is joyful,” she wrote in her last entry. “And I hope never to come back.”
Kahlo died on July 13, 1954. The official cause of death was pulmonary embolism set on by pneumonia, but some have speculated that she overdosed on pain killers. She was cremated; her cremains are on display at her home, Casa Azul (“Blue House”) in Coyoacán, Mexico City (also known as Museo Frida Kahlo).
Kahlo’s talents as a painter were irrepressible. As summed up by Rivera, who passed November 24, 1957: “I recommend her to you, not as a husband but as an enthusiastic admirer of her work,” he once said to Picasso. “Acid and tender, hard as steel and delicate and fine as a butterfly’s wing, lovable as a beautiful smile, and profound and cruel as the bitterness of life.”
And so we come back to Microscopicpera’s opera, and somehow know they will paint an accurate portrait.
Frida will be performed October 30, 31, November 1 @ 8 p.m. and November @ 2 p.m. There is a Talkback with the cast after Friday’s performance. Tickets $25 in advance; $35 at door; $15 students. Tickets available online at microscopicopera.org