Daniela Mack as Frida Kahlo and Alfredo Daza as Diego Rivera. Photo: Cory Weaver.

El último sueńo de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego)

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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So, you think you have a pretty good idea of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s life and art? Not according to Director Lorena Maza who has said she, “want[ed] to avoid the folkloric, cliché version of … these two artists” and the celebration of the day of the dead. The premise of El Sueño is that on La Dia de Los Muertos, the souls of the dead can be summoned by the living for a one-day visit. Diego who is dying is needy. He tries to summon Frida to help him make the transition. In fact, she had died three years before him. One of her very last diary entries reads, “I hope the exit is joyful — and hope never to return.” In this story death has released her from a lifetime of physical and emotional pain, much of the latter having been caused by Diego. She loudly proclaims her disinterest in returning.

El último sueño de Frida y Diego opens in a magical, marigold tinged, graveyard on the day of dead. Villagers bearing votive candles are calling out to the departed souls to come back for a visit. Diego (Alfredo Daza), cane in hand, is aloof, avoiding the others even though he is recognized, as he too wanders in the graveyard. Ultimately, after all have left he asks for Frida (Daniela Mack) to come to him. He is approached by Catrina (Ana Maria Martinez), the keeper of the dead, disguised as an old woman selling flowers. She approaches him. Not recognizing her, reluctantly he buys the bunch, trashing them on the way out.

The lush graveyard lifts, revealing the souls of the underworld who have been summoned by the living. It is an arresting visual effect. Below, the dead await their guide for the one-day journey. Catrina casts aside her disguise and is revealed in a dazzling, skeletal costume. Daza approaches her role with gusto and a voice to match the arresting costume. The dead souls quickly fall into line.

La Sueño is a work of spectralism, or acoustical musique spectrale. While it lends an other world character appropriate to a story of the afterlife, it dampens the dynamic range of the music. Catrina’s character, however, is written with a larger dynamic range and sprinkled with ominous laughter. Martinez takes advantage of it both musically and theatrically. Although she is the most fictional of the characters, she is the most present and the easiest to bond with emotionally.

Try as they do, there is no palpable passion between Frida and Diego. Director Maza has asked us to cast aside our “clichéd version” of their life and see them only through the painters’ love of indigenous and folk art. So, forget what you know about their divorcing and remarrying within a single year. Forget Diego’s having been a part of the European Avant Guard. Forget the first world political and social strum und drang that whirled around him in particular. Forget her having had an affair with Trotsky. Focus on the Aztec characters associated with this view of the day of the dead. Forget what you know of their very public lives.

Director Maza tells us this is “a Mexican View of the story.” There is no denying their very national identification. It is in their art and in their very home. The Casa Azul is perhaps the most stunning of the sets and is almost a character in the plot. However, the indigenous and folkloric were not all that mattered about them. To surgically remove their greater complexity is costly. If the story were about some fictional characters named José and Maria would this opera hold your attention? I would say, most likely not.
Karen Weinstein

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