Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s lives are a gift to music theatre. They loved song. They were always singing to each other. They were embroiled in almost every big development of the twentieth century: Marxism, political assassination, American imperialism, artistic experiment, the ideology of free love. Trotsky, Ford, Rockerfeller, Andre Breton, Picasso are just a few ancillary characters in the drama. Their fame – particularly Frida’s – endures and endures.
Our play-with-music unravels the story of their love and betrayals, using the music they loved – the popular music of Mexico – as part of the drama.
Here is a SYNOPSIS followed by a short PRODUCTION HISTORY.
The story divides naturally into eight episodes. Each is introduced by conversation between old Diego and an American journalist who has come to ask him about the life of her hero, Frida Kahlo.
EPISODE ONE: BEGINNINGS.
Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 to a fiercely Catholic Spanish-Indian mother and an eccentric Hungarian-Jewish immigrant father.
She spent several years at the most prestigious school in Mexico, where she picked up the national enthusiasm for revolution as well as a good education.
Aged 18, she met with a terrible accident that would leave her permanently disabled and subject to ever-intensifying bouts of physical pain until her early death aged 47. Frida began to paint while confined to bed after her accident.
MUSIC EXAMPLE: Opening.
EPISODE TWO: DIEGO
Through her involvement with Bohemian communist politics, Frida met the artist Diego Rivera. He was almost as famous as a womanizer as he was for his art. They began an affair and soon Frida became his third wife.
Frida was already sexually adventurous by the time she met Diego. Marriage did not stop Diego’s escapades, and Frida would eventually compete: some say this was to cope with his infidelities, some say it was her natural inclination. Whatever the case, she left many verbal and pictorial records of her torment at his behaviour.
No amount of bad behavior on both their parts would alter the fact that they were the loves of each others’ lives. Diego, after Frida’s death, would say to his biographer Gladys March: ‘Too late I realise the most wonderful part of my life has been my love for Frida’.
Diego (not known for his humility) claimed that Frida was the better artist.
MUSIC EXAMPLE: La Malaguena.
EPISODE THREE: THE BUS
Diego Rivera’s paintings had a strong political content.Frida Kahlo painted herself and ordinary people, sometimes in ordinary situations as in her picture ‘The Bus’. This episode is a musical animation of the picture as she paints it.
MUSIC EXAMPLE: ‘The Bus’, tune ‘Las Tres Pelonas’.
EPISODE FOUR: GRINGOLANDIA
Rivera was now the most famous artist in the world. He wanted to bring revolution to the United States and also respect for workers. The industrialists Henry Ford and Rockefeller commissioned Rivera to paint murals celebrating industry, and Rivera accepted.
Frida accompanied him to ‘Gringolandia’ with misgivings – she found the gringos cold and hypocritical – ‘they don’t even know how to get drunk in proper style’.
EPISODE FIVE: FORDS AND ROCKEFELLERS
Frida was expected to mix politely with the plutocrats and their wives. She delighted in shocking people. For instance, she asked Henry Ford – a notorious anti-Semite – ‘Mr Ford, are you a Jew?’. Meanwhile she became pregnant and had an emergency abortion in Henry Ford Hospital.
Rivera and Frida went on to New York, where he painted a huge mural for the Rockefellers. The mural was destroyed after Rivera insisted on putting Lenin in prime position. The Rockefellers were not so worried by revolution – the United States was founded on revolution and Communism was not yet a dirty word – but Lenin was a killer of priests and the Rockefellers were fiercely Christian.
EPISODE SIX: RETURN TO MEXICO
Frida and Diego returned to Mexico. Rivera was depressed Frida was ill. While Frida was in hospital, Rivera had an affair with Frida’s sister. Frida was devastated. She expressed her feelings in her picture ‘Unos Cuantos Piquetitos’ – ‘A Few Small Nips’. It depicts a true crime that was in the papers at the time.
MUSIC EXAMPLE: A Few Small Nips.
EPISODE SEVEN: TROTSKY
In 1937, Rivera invited the Russian outlaw Trotsky to come and live in Mexico, in order to save him from Stalin’s assassins. Rivera fortified Frida’s old family home for the Trotsky entourage, and provided guards to protect him.
Frida, in revenge at Diego’s seduction of her sister, began a short affair with Trotsky.
Diego found out about the affair and was furious. He kicked Trotsky out of the fortified house and withdrew financial support. Shortly after, Trotsky was killed by one of Stalin’s assassins.
Frida and Diego were estranged for a while. They divorced. Frida enjoyed success on her own in New York and in Paris, where she was feted by the celebrity art scene and taught the song ‘El Huerfanito’ by Picasso.
MUSIC EXAMPLE: Natalya’s Song. Trotsky’s wife sings to Frida begging her to give up her affair.
EPISODE EIGHT: FINALE
Diego wanted to re-marry Frida and she consented. They enjoyed some years of tranquillity together before Frida’s last illness.
Frida painted many self-portraits, because people wanted to buy them, and because with her increasing disabilities she was her own best subject.
She also had a group of pupils who were loyal to her – the Friduchos.
As the physical pain of her condition grew worse – by this time she had had many operations – she began to consume large amounts of drink and drugs, which Diego procured for her. Her condition, mental and physical, deteriorated. In 1953, a year before her death, she had her first and only solo show in Mexico.
Her funeral was as dramatic as her life had been. It turned into a political scandal when a red flag was draped over the coffin. Frida chose to be cremated, which was unusual for Mexico at that time. She sat up in her coffin, wreathed in fire, as she entered the flames.
The final scene of our drama celebrates Frida’s faith in life and in art, and the world’s respect for a passionate life led in pursuit of truth.
‘Frida and Diego’ was conceived at Goldsmiths, University of London, and first performed at the Henry Wood Theatre.
Frida Kahlo: Naomi Lee Schulke.
Diego Rivera: Adam Vaughan.
Natalya Trotsky: Elyse Marks.
Trotsky: Alex Browne.
Playing various characters: Graham Weaver, Kris Webb.
Musical Director: Matt Winkworth.
Director: Kyle Stewart.
Since then, various workshops and presentations have been held, the most recent being at RADA:
Frida Kahlo: Jennifer Kidd.
Diego Rivera: Antonio Magro.
Playing various characters: Kate Sissons, Hiran Abeysekera, Lotte Latham, Gunnar Cauthery, Lauren Swann.
Musical Director: Andrew Charity.
Director: Simon Usher.
Convenor: Lloyd Trott.