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Review: FLORIDA at Urban Arias

Review: FLORIDA at Urban Arias

The new opera Florida with music by Randall Eng and libretto by Donna Di Novelli, premiered last week at Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street. With its heavy handed melodrama and awkwardly balanced narrative, Sunday's matinee plodded along (well over Urban Arias' usual 90-minute-or-less promise) before concluding rather lukewarmly. This said, the production was not without its merits.

The story centers on Florida-the girl not the state. Named for the scent of gardenias, Florida Fandango, played by Sharin Apostolou, is Di Novelli's take on the manic-pixie-dream-girl archetype. Florida and her mother, played by Nancy Allen Lundy, go on a summer vacation that goes tragically awry. The neighborhood where they stay comes complete with an uptight nuclear family-the Redwoods-played by Ethan Greene, Hannah Hagerty, Ian McEuen, and Katherine Riddle, who are dressed in matching purple outfits and perch from their newly built deck while taking in the drama next door. And, of course, there is Marc, who is the slightly creepy yet attractive boy next door played by Daniel Rowan.

Florida takes up with Marc, but then goes away and has a fling with another young man. She revels in being completely in love with no one. Marc is upset, and retaliates by murdering Florida's mother. Yes. It really does escalate that quickly. Florida is accused of matricide, and the second act of the show is a smattering of investigative characters-played by Ian McEuen and Katherine Riddle-as they half-heartedly attempt to unravel what really happened to Florida's mother.

I can appreciate what Eng and Di Novelli where trying to do in examining a young woman's discovery of her sexuality with the backdrop of a stereotypical American family, but the story and music simply did not have the stakes that an opera needs in order to resonate with its audience. There were too many issues at play. Mrs. Redwood says that Florida's name has too many vowels. Florida's mother also seems to be dealing with her own sexual issues. The Redwood children sneak cigarettes beneath the porch. Is the issue a young woman's sexuality, socioeconomic prejudice, or clueless parents? Perhaps this story would be more appropriate in a musical or straight theatre setting where a writer can be more specific.

The high points of the production were undoubtedly Nancy Allen Lundy and Ethan Greene's late second act arias. Lundy's voice is clear and resonant, with a bounty of technical experience. Greene's is a rich and buttery baritone. It's unfortunate that we don't get to really hear either of them until three-quarters of the way through the production. Until then, most of the singing is dialogue with some bits of chorus interspersed throughout.

The show ends with the question "Who seduced who?" The grammatical error aside, I wasn't entirely sure to whom they referred. While Florida needs some focus, I am curious to see another production by Kevin Newbury, whose direction provided the most cohesive elements of the show.

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