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Composer: Joe Illick
Librettist: Mark Campbell
Based on the book by Laurence Anholt

Fort Worth Opera

Director: Octavio Cardenas
Music Director/Pianist: Charlene Lotz
Puppet Designer: Cindy Page
Costume Designer: Colleen Power
Set Designer: Richard Morrison
Prop Designer: Jennifer Felix
Stage Manager: Sam Parkinson

Marianna: Robin Steitz
Frida/Mother: Kayla Nanto
Grandmother/Monkey: Megan Koch
Father/Diego/Parrot: Christopher Curcuruto
Brother/Dog: Lwazi Hlait

Reviewed Performance:

Reviewed by Cat Jimenez, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

This opera is based on a kid book by the same name about a young girl named Marianna who lives in a house full of art by Frida Kahlo. This house, however, is missing a portrait of Marianna herself, so her family encourages her to get one painted by Frida. Marianna is hesitant because of all the rumors she’s heard about the ominous Frida Kahlo. Once she enters Frida’s home her nervousness dissolves as a friendship blooms between herself and Kahlo. Director Octavio Cardenas directed a fun, colorful, and energetic play to bring the family to. The music was played by a single pianist on the corner of the stage. Being the only instrument on stage is a big job for any musician. The piano was well timed and precise, and it was incredibly well done. Charlene Lotz is a talented pianist who has been performing since the age of fourteen. Years of practice and performance have equipped her with an ability to handle the pressure that comes with being the only source of music to accompany the singers on stage, and it shows in this opera where she acted as accompanist and music director.

Joe Illick’s composition itself set the perfect tone to accompany the colorful and fun energy of the opera. The music was often bubbly, and translated Marianna’s feelings just as well as the words of the songs she sang. It somehow captured the child like playfulness of the young girl while creating an energy that the piano was able to capture. It’s no surprise that Joe would do an amazing job composing a brand new show. He has much experience, seeing as Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World is Fort Worthy Opera’s seventh world premiere since 2007 and he has served as Music Director and Principle Conductor for the company for fifteen seasons. He has been recognized not only nationally, but internationally. He’s received the Van Someren Award in the United Kingdom for the composition of a song cycle, had work premiere in Italy, and has had his work performed on public television. So as you can see, he is no stranger to arranging beautiful scores.

The librettist, Mark Campbell, also did an amazing job and is also extremely talented. His way of portraying characters through song is done so well. His words gave Frida a wonderful, mentor like, grace. They gave Marianna an exciting and colorful outlook. Mark is another experienced member of the team behind this opera, being at the forefront of contemporary opera. Mark has created thirty opera librettos, and his works have been performed at over seventy-five venues. His best known operas have been given prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize in music and, in 2019, a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. He also mentors for future generations of opera composers, using his expertise to teach and help facilitate a passion for writing. As is evident, he makes quality works and this family opera was no exception.

The set was extremely simple but had nice detail, it did well for this opera. I will admit when I first saw the set, I wondered if it was too simple. I thought there would be a lot more added through the show, but it stayed simple throughout. However, as it went on, I found that with the space and the story, it fit wonderfully. My main concern was that the simplicity would lose the interest of the little ones, as this is a family show. The opera no issue being eye catching, however. The set ended up being the perfect backdrop for the cast with their beautiful costumes that added so much to the excitement of the show. The costumes were very simple as well, but the bright and rich splashes of color drew the eye and definitely kept the attention of the young ones in the audience. The stage was filled with rich blues and reds, and the costumes were a wonderful illustration of the vibrancy of Latin culture and art.

Along with the fun colors, cast controlled puppets were dancing and flying across the stage. These cute puppets serving as Frida Kahlo’s friendly pets were adorable, and they were a big part of what made this opera interactive. Kids enjoy being a part of something they can clap and sing along with. What kid doesn’t like singing and dancing cute little animals?

Speaking of singing, the voices of the cast were marvelous. Everyone in the cast had wonderful richness and opera essence in their voice, and I was surprised when little Marianna opened her mouth to first sing with an experienced opera singers throat. As it turns out, Marianna was played by Robin Steitz, a former math teacher. Her beautiful soprano was wonderful, and for that reason she will be a busy bee this season. She will be performing with South Dakota Symphony later this season, and following that will be performing with OperaDelaware. Her performance stood out to me, but I also was especially impressed with Kayla Nanto as Frida and Lwazi Hlati as Marianna’s brother and Mr. Xoloti (the parrot). Kayla is a Performing artist with The Dalla Opera’s outreach program, which performs children’s operas weekly in schools throughout the DFW area, making beautiful art more accessible to children. Llwazi is a highly sought after tenor from Johannesburg, Africa. His voice struck me especially, and even though he wasn’t starring in the show, he was one pf the most memorable performers in my opinion. This show had a small main cast, consisting of five people, but bit did a good job at featuring a diverse group of talented perfromers.

Over all, Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World is doing a wonderful job of being the kind of entertainment that opens young minds to history and culture. Having children enjoying learning about Latino history and art is a great thing. This opera promotes creativity, bravery, and is a great way of helping to introduce strong female figures of history into the developing minds of children. Anybody with kids will appreciate the benefit of this show.

Frida Kahlo And the Bravest Girl In The World-
Performances are held at the Rose Marine Theater
Artes De La Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
1440 N Main St, Fort Worth, TX 76164