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A Heady Delight

Shostakovich's operetta 'Moskva, Cheryomushki',
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Shostakovich's operetta Moskva, Cheryomushki ('Paradise, Moscow', in David Pountney's English version) was first staged in 1959. A typically Russian satire on corrupt bureaucracy, it targets the new housing developments springing up all round Moscow at the time. It is rather more soft-centred than kind of thing he was writing as a young musical tearaway some thirty years earlier -- it doesn't have the sheer anarchic lunacy of The Nose, for instance. But it still makes some pertinent points, with everyone determined to get their hands on a shiny new flat, and officials determined to be as obstructive as possible. David Pountney's script also manages a barbed comment on political irregularities nearer home (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 18 June 2009).

Grant Doyle and Bibi Heal are the much put-upon but ever-hopeful Sacha and Masha, a young married couple who only get to see each other at the museum where Sacha works. Their fantasy of their dream flat is a show-stopper, with its parade of dancing gadgets and appliances. (Craig Revel Horwood's inventive choreography throughout is a joy to watch.)

Claire Pascoe's down-to-earth, ever-optimistic construction worker, Lusya, is the archetypal Soviet poster girl, leading the recurring 'Cheryomushki' chorus with head and arm held high. She is being ineptly pursued by Philip O'Brien's diffident Sergei, chauffeur to housing boss Drebyednyetsov. Richard Angas puts both his rich-toned bass and his Walter Matthau-like facial mobility to good use as Drebyednyetsov, lugubriously struggling to keep up with his ever more demanding floozie Vava. Margaret Preece gives her more than just a streak of calculating determination -- not such a dumb blonde as she first appears, this one.

As museum tour guide Lidochka, Summer Strallen has a fresh, appealing voice and plenty of charm as she blossoms from mousy blue-stocking to 'violet who's forgotten how to shrink' under the attentions of Eaton James' energetic Boris, a louche teddy-boy (did they have those in Soviet Russia?) who knows just how to turn on the charm. Peter Bodenham's Barabashkin is the epitome of minor officialdom, aware that he only commands people's respect as long as he still keeps hold of the keys to the new flats. The members of Opera North chorus gamely take the roles of workers, tenants and (yes) a garden full of potted geraniums.

Conductor James Holmes gets the whole thing zipping along with tremendous vitality -- this is just the kind of thing he does so well. Though the pace starts to flag a little in Act 2, it soon picks up again, and the finale is a heady delight.

Both visually and musically the whole show is as bright and shiny as a brand-new kitchen. OK, bring on the dancing cookers, fridges, blenders ...

Copyright © 25 June 2009 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK










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