Opera Steamboat celebrates last weekend of summer festival with ‘Frida,’ ‘Rusalka’
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s the final weekend of Opera Steamboat’s summer festival with performances on both Friday and Saturday nights.
Opera Steamboat presents “Frida,” by Robert Xavier Rodriguez, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at the Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.
The opera is based on the life of Frida Kahlo, widely considered to be Mexico’s greatest painter. Born in 1907, Kahlo was known from childhood as outspoken, intellectual and brave. At age 18, she was riding in a bus that collided with a streetcar, leaving her immobilized and on bedrest for several months, during which she began painting self-portraits to pass the time.
“Frida was such a strong, intelligent woman,” Opera Steamboat Vice-Chair Jenny Maxwell said. “Her themes in her art came from the fact that she was very brilliant but also struggling with the physical manifestation of the accident.”
Not long after, Kahlo connected with artist Diego Rivera, a well-known painter nearly twice Kahlo’s age. They married and lived in New York City, San Francisco and Detroit for Rivera’s career, while Kahlo developed her painting style.
“It’s such an interesting and rich relationship Frida and Diego (Rivera) had with their art and with each other — quite tumultuous, which makes for good drama,” Maxwell said.
Kahlo’s paintings were soon known across the world, and her social circle included Leon Trotsky, Marc Chagall, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso.
“People will gain a richer understanding of (Frida),” Maxwell said. “The script is interesting because there’s a lot of seriousness but also a lot of humor.”
She noted that in this production, three calavera characters — “sort of a mix of a skeleton and ethereal being” — float throughout the show, the other characters unaware of them, bringing pieces of art to represent each scene.
“It’s intriguing and adds a lot to the music,” Maxwell said.
“Frida” is for viewers age 18 and older. Tickets are $35.
On Saturday, Aug. 17, Opera Steamboat presents its grand opera of the festival, “Rusalka,” by Antonin Dvorak, at 7 p.m. at Strings Music Pavilion, 900 Strings Road.
“Even if they don’t recognize the name, people will know this story,” Maxwell said. “It’s based on the same story that The Little Mermaid was based on.”
Water nymph Rusalka falls in love with a human — the prince — after he swims in a nearby lake, and now, Rusalka wants to become a human herself, to the dismay of her father, the Water Sprite. The witch Jezibaba agrees to turn Rusalka human but warns that if she doesn’t find love, she’ll be doomed, and the man she loves will die. And as a human, Rusalka will also lose her voice entirely. Rusalka agrees and sets out to find the prince.
Opera Steamboat’s version of the traditional story also has a twist — a mission to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. In a partnership with Twin Enviro, Opera Steamboat’s Artistic Director Andres Cladera incorporated plastics and other unsustainable materials into the show’s costumes, including a cape made of plastic rings around a six-pack and trash bags, according to Opera Steamboat’s Executive Director Melodie Querry.
“I think this (message) would resonate with any audience, but especially Steamboat,” Maxwell said.
This production’s five leads are the most renowned, practiced artists of the festival, or what Opera Steamboat Trustee Melissa Hampton calls the “pro cast.” This includes Ben Gulley, who performed a show with Opera Steamboat in June 2018 to a sold-out and “mesmerized” audience, according to Maxwell. Gulley will appear in “Rusalka” as the lead male role of the prince.
“The production is very beautiful, soaring and spirit-lifting,” Maxwell said.
Tickets for adults are offered at $35 to $80, with student options of $10 to $25.
“Opera is an old art, and it’s been around for a long time,” said Querry.
“Since it started in the 1600s, opera has been supported by the public,” Hampton said. “The art form is still alive, because people come see it.”
Learn more at operasteamboat.org.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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