Classical Music

Cherry Town, Moscow review – Shostakovich’s operetta becomes a zany romp but outstays its welcome | Opera

There’s something disconcerting about watching Shostakovich’s operetta from the post-Stalin 1950s in the present context of Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. With its title adapted from Cheryomushki, meaning Cherry Trees, named after one of Nikita Khrushchev’s housing projects for reconstructing Moscow, there are elements of subversive satire and irony as frustrated residents are pitted against the corrupt bosses in charge, but it’s generally lightweight and anodyne.

There’s certainly none of the pungency or drama of Shostakovich’s two real operas, The Nose and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District. Despite the neat paradox of demolition man Boris (Dafydd Allen) who blows up the old properties to make way for the new, and Lidochka (Rusnė Tušlaitė) with her shades of nihilism, too many characters are unprepossessing – even in David Pountney’s racy translation, dialogue is stilted with minimal plot – and, at an hour and 50 minutes with no interval, it feels doubly long-drawn-out. Not obvious repertoire then for the youngsters of the Welsh National Youth Opera.

But there’s no denying the verve with which they tackle things in this production. Updating it to the less drab 1980s, director Daisy Evans and designer Loren Elstein go for zany romp, maximising the theatricality, cheerfully taking the Mikhail out of it all, with a Duchamp dadaist touch as the urinal exhibited in the History of the Reconstruction Museum comes off the wall to be brandished in one of many song and dance routines. Movement director Anjali Mehra brings slickness and wit to these.

Shostakovich’s pastiche is jolly and jazzy, with some Russian melancholy, too. Using Gerard McBurney’s chamber orchestra version, conductor Alice Farnham makes it zip along and, in the pit, the 18 WNO players sound as if they’re having a blast, though surely balking at the umpteenth reappearance of the Cheryomushki chorus, catchy enough the first time, but eventually done to death. Many of the principal singers, miked up, show considerable future vocal potential. All throw themselves into the pantomime and slapstick with enthusiasm, which is how it was greeted, if not exactly so by me.

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