The Austin Chronicle

UT: Major Arts Commissions Announced

By Robert Faires, August 4, 2017, 4:00pm, All Over Creation

This time of year, most talk about the University of Texas concerns the football team, but the arts may generate some chatter this week with the news of two major commissions: from public art program Landmarks, a massive mural by José Parlá and from the College of Fine Arts, an opera about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Landmarks has engaged Parlá to take a 25-foot x 160-foot wall in Robert B. Rowling Hall, the new graduate education building for the McCombs School of Business, and fill 4,000 square feet with a mural. Though the artist is well-known for working on a large scale – for the likes of the One World Trade Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music – the as-yet untitled work that will cover the grand entrance to the Zlotnik Family Ballroom in Rowling Hall will exceed anything he's done to date.


In the press release from Landmarks, the mural is described as "a sweeping visual landscape. Conceived as a narrative that evokes Austin’s natural environment and its urban cityscape, the mural will feature Parlá’s characteristic traces of collage, pulled impasto surfaces, and signature calligraphic marks." The mural will make its debut in spring 2018, when Rowling Hall, currently under construction on the northeast corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Guadalupe, opens to the public. For more information, visit

Meanwhile, UT's College of Fine Arts has partnered with two professional opera companies, Fort Worth Opera and San Diego Opera, and another university, DePauw, to co-commission The Last Dream of Frida & Diego, an opera in Spanish by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz and Latin Grammy winner, pianist, and classical composer Gabriela Lena Frank. [image-4-right][image-5-right]

The opera takes place in 1957, three years after Kahlo's death, with Rivera desiring to see his Frida one more time before he himself dies (which he did in November of that year). In the afterlife, the keeper of the souls alerts Kahlo to Rivera's wish, and it being El Día de los Muertos, she returns to spend a day with him. During that time, the couple relives the pain and passion of their time together.

Curious opera fans can see it as soon as spring 2020 if they're willing to drive up I-35 to Cowtown, as Fort Worth Opera gets to present the new work first. But it will take another two years for the opera to make its way to Austin, where it will be produced at the UT Butler Opera Center. (San Diego gets to mount it between the two Texas productions.)

More details about the commission will be announced Thu., Aug. 24, in a bilingual news conference at Palacio de Bellas Artes, the concert hall and cultural arts center in Mexico City. For more information, visit

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