Catalina Cuervo who stars as painter Frida Kahlo in Florida Grand Opera's production of "Frida" says it was a show at FGO that opened the door for her to get the starring role in an opera about one of her lifelong idols.
"In 2014, I was in Chicago and I came to Miami to sing with Florida Grand Opera for the tango opera 'Maria de Buenos Aires.' It was done as a double bill with another short opera called Tango by Robert Xavier Rodriguez, the composer of 'Frida.' He heard me sing and when I finished the performance, he told me his name and said 'I am a Mexican-American composer and I wrote an opera based on the life of Frida Kahlo. I think you would be fantastic in the role," says Cuervo.
She says they discussed the idea a bit. "It sounded like a fantastic work and, well, the character herself. I was and am obsessed with Frida Kahlo."
A year later, she was contacted by the late Michigan Opera Theatre founder David DiChiera, who told her that he had been in a conversation with Rodriguez and "he recommended you for the role."
She performed the role in the Michigan Opera Theatre's 2015 revival of "Frida," with Detroit News critic George Bulanda who wrote she "doesn't just play the role, she embodies it."
"It was a great revival," says Cuervo. "Because that production was so successful, the Cincinnati Opera decided to do it. And now, Florida Grand Opera. It's been a pleasure for me and a great thing for my career. I'm grateful Frida came into my life."
The opera, based on the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, is sung in English and Spanish with projected translations in English and Spanish. "It is 80 percent in English, 20 percent in Spanish," explains Cuervo.
Cuervo, originally from Medellin, Colombia, came to the United States when she was 18. She went to Miami Dade College and then was in the dual enrollment program at the New World School of the Arts and University of Florida. She received her master's degree at Roosevelt University, Chicago.
"My parents supported me coming to the United States to study music. They decided that Miami would be best because I had an aunt who lived here."
It was her great aunt, Alba del Castillo, who may have had something to do with her career as an opera singer. del Castillo was the best coloratura soprano in Colombia's history, but passed away when she was only 36 years old. "She died before I was born, but she has always had a huge influence in my growing up. I admired this woman and my whole family did. They were so proud of Alba del Castillo. I'm not sure she is the reason I sing opera but I'm sure she had a big influence."
The music for "Frida" was composed by Rodriguez in 1991. Cuervo says it is an opera that can draw in crowds that aren't specifically tuned in to opera. "It has great musical moments, funny and very emotional too. It's a story about a woman going through different moments in her life, and it's so accessible. It's great for people who have never been to an opera," says Cuervo. She adds that she hopes the Latin community will see that opera "Is not just for an elite group of people, but it is for everyone."
The opera isn't being presented in the usual FGO venues: Adrienne Arsht Center and Broward Center; one of FGO's community outreach performance pieces, Cuervo says the opera isn't built to be played in a 2,000 seat theater.
"People need to be close and see the drama to enjoy this one."
“Frida” by Florida Grand Opera will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 16, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 17 at the Miramar Cultural Center, 2400 Civic Center Place; 8 p.m. March 21, 7 p.m. March 23 and 3 p.m. March 24 at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W Flagler St., Miami; and 7:30 p.m. March 28 and March 30 at the Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $35-$99. Visit FGO.org.