Life’s a bitch especially for those struggling with the angst of life — in this particular case, the characters of the world premiere opera Florida from UrbanArias.
Now please don’t stop reading because I used the word opera in my first sentence. Florida is no petrified “High Art” old opera that takes place in a distant land and at a distant time from today and sung in a foreign tongue. It is a contemporary opera sung in English that resembles a stylishly opaque film noir – complete with accusations of matricide. (My DCMTA colleague Em Skow has written a fine review of UrbanArias’ Florida here).
With music by Randall Eng and libretto by Donna Di Novelli, Florida is a moody production that has hormones raging, with penetrating jazzy rhythms that stand on their own as a musical score, with strings and abundant brass, reeds and percussion along with masses of biting lyrics, some rich with irony. Eng’s musical composition and the orchestration has enormous aural power as performed by 17 members of the Inscape Chamber Orchestra (conducted by Robert Wood).
Directed by Kevin Newbury, Florida is a family melodrama heard through a fog-shrouded mist. It is the story of a teenage girl named Florida Fandango at 16, and then again at 26. It sheds some deep violet light on her suburban life with her mother and some neighbors who are only “Eighty-Eight Steps” away, as one song is titled. The opera follows Florida as she tries to come to terms with her maturing self-image and her growing desires for intimacy. The character Florida has a deep need to feel something in her life. Will sex do it for her?
What do we know about Florida right from the start? Well, Di Novelli gets the audience to know quickly a bit about Florida at 16. Her opening number is “Uneasy Gray” with this words, “Let the world be black and white, I’ll play the uneasy gray, the color of cement.” As sung with a clear brood in her fine soprano voice, and with the don’t-mess-with-me piercing eyes of Sharin Apostolou, it is an eye-popping non-overture.
The character Florida is far from alone sulking her way through life on the stage. There is her often ironic, sometimes comic mom, known as “One Dead Mother.” In the very capable acting and voice of Nancy Allen Lundy, One Dead Mother is a lonely, aging femme fatale. She is hungry for love in her own life. She drapes herself across any surface, hoping to be seen through windows. She desires something or someone to rekindle her reasons to live beyond being a mother.
Added to One Dead Mother are some creepy, crawly neighbors called the Redwoods, especially the males, who are hungry for seduction in their own ways. For all of the Redwoods’ outward conventionality, well, let’s just say things don’t go well. There are also some comic relief attempts involving medical personnel who sing with misplaced glee through autopsies of middle-aged women with “dents” in their bodies.
Rather than call Florida an opera, let me call it a sung-through sinister graphic novel with libretto full of danger about community standards, revenge and seduction. All with two hours of delicious, moody jazzy and blues orchestral music in a venue of the Atlas Performing Arts Center that carries the music very well.
Florida is no Barber of Seville. It is no Aida. It is no Orpheus. It is sui generis. I am glad it is. I think it is a great date night or group event – perfect for discussion afterward at one of H Street’s dives. Let me know what you think.
Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Florida, presented by UrbanArias, plays through April 14, 2018, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993, or purchase them online.