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Frida Kahlo is one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Certainly, the most recognizable painter. Her short and painful life was extraordinarily eventful, and there are numerous biographical works documenting the details.

Composer Robert Xavier Rodgriguez’s opera, Frida had its premiere 1991 and is, surprisingly, only seeing its local premiere this year, courtesy of Long Beach Opera (LBO). Performed al fresco at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach and, for one performance, at Grand Performances in Downtown Los Angeles, the choice was an apt one during our comfortable summer evenings.

Rodriguez’s score is eclectic, sprinkled with plenty of Latin-based rhythms and styles—tangos, mariachi, and folk music all appear, along with musical quotations like the “Internationale.” But the heart of the score is reminiscent of the more classically-influenced Broadway composers like Weill, Bernstein, and Sondheim. The operatic influences seem to come from the better mid-20th Century melodists, like Menotti and Floyd.

Hilary Blecher’s book, and Migdalia Cruz’s lyrics and monologues (I’m not really sure how those duties are apportioned.) tell Frida’s life story in a series of 13 scenes. Like most dramatic biographies which try to cover an entire life, the episodic nature of the storytelling and the quick moves from event to event mean that we rarely get below the surface of the characters. This makes it difficult for an audience to connect emotionally, particularly when the characters are as complex and contradictory as Frida and her husband, Diego Rivera.

Certainly, there are moments that truly work. The surreal representation of the bus accident which would almost kill Frida and leave her in pain for the rest of her life is beautifully realized. But much of the story is related in a realistic manner with little poetry in the lyrics. By the time we reach Frida’s second act relationship with the exiled Leon Trotsky, what should be fascinating has become slightly tedious.

The libretto is in Spanish and English with English supertitles. Left untranslated are several of Frida’s more colorful emotional outbursts. The knowing laughter from the audience clearly proves that expletives are the first words one picks up in a foreign language.

The opera was designed for a company of 10-plus singers and dancers. LBO’s production reduces the cast to 6:  Frida and Diego, along with a hard-working group of 4 singers all playing 4 to 6 individual roles, filling in for the dancers, and moving the scenic elements. They accomplish all of this with little apparent strain.

Laura Virella is a vibrant Frida with an attractive, plush sound. Bernardo Bermudez is a more elegant singer than one might expect as the proletarian Rivera, but he and Virella are compelling in their 2 duets. Alejandra Martinez, Joanna Ceja, Jonathan Lacayo and David Castillo do terrific work in their multiple roles.

As the performances are outdoors, the singers wear body mics, which, at the performance I attended were balanced properly for the vocals, though Kristof Van Grysperre’s orchestra felt a little muted. And, of course, there are the occasional sirens and low-flying helicopters, which are the price for outdoor performances in any urban setting.

The bigger issue for the Grand Performances space is the pond, which sits between the audience and the stage. While lovely, it places the performers at an extreme distance from even the first row of the audience, making that emotional connection even more difficult to achieve.

Museum of Latin American Art & Grand Performances    June 17, 2017 – June 25, 2017




Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.