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Cheryomushki is a wonderful high rise white-washed suburban Elysium. The promise of a new life for young couples, a secure flat for an elderly widower, profits for the chief executive and party glory for the politician in charge of the project are all sources of a witty, hard-hitting English text by David Pountney (a vigorous advocate for new operatic repertoire) who makes notable capital with clever dialogue and catchy lyrics.

Shostakovitch wrote only three stage works -- this was the third. Maybe he felt it appropriate that having suffered critical indignities with his first two operas (The Nose and Lady Macbeth), a musical about a high-rise housing estate ('... in every room, on every floor, municipal happiness ...') would be another way of spitting at them all. He wrote it in two weeks during the autumn of 1958. The previous year he had completed a second Piano Concerto for his 18-year-old son Maxim, and a year later he wrote the energetic and economic Cello Concerto No 1. Both concertos are as sardonic as Cheryomushki, using the suggestive rhythms of familiar folksongs, known to have alternative, politically satirical and often indecent words.

Rachel Taylor as Lusya, a worker on the construction site, with members of the Opera North chorus, in the Opera North 2001 production of 'Paradise Moscow'. Photo: ON / Stephen Vaughan

35 years later Gerald McBurney, the British composer and arranger with a particular interest in Shostakovitch, was commissioned to revise and reorchestrate the neglected score for Pimlico Opera's 1994 revival, and it is this, with some further additions by Opera North's head of music, Jim Holmes, that is now exuberantly launched.

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Copyright © 10 May 2001 Patric Standford, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, UK




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