Royal Academy Opera – Paradise Moscow

Shostakovich
Paradise Moscow [Cheryomushki] to a libretto by Vladimir Mass & Mikhail Chervinsky [sung in David Pountney’s English translation and performed in Gerard McBurney’s orchestral reduction]

Sasha Bubentsov – Gerard Collett
Masha – Kristen Darragh
Lidochka – Maria Matyazova
Baburov – Hyung Tae Kim
Boris – David Butt Philip
Drebedneyev – Dong Jun Wang
Vava – Katarina Roussou
Barabashkin – Kong Seok Choi
Sergei – Christopher Diffey
Lyusya (Lucy) – Katherine Crotty
Husband – Tom Lowe
Wife – Adrian Festeu
Kurochkin – Stuart Haycock
Kurochkina – Miranda Makryniotis
Mylkin – Callum Thorpe
Mylkina – Lucie Spickova
First neighbour – Caroline MacPhie
First female resident – Narine Ojakhyan
Second female resident – Emma Carrington
Third female resident – Lisa Crosato
First woman – Hei Mi Lee
Nervous Lady – Eleanor Greenwood
First male resident – Richard Rowe
Second male resident – Teit Kanstrup
Fourth male resident – Ross McInroy
Fifth male resident – Marcin Gesla
Male neighbour – Lei Shao
Constructioneers – Jessica Dean, Robyn Kirk & Amy Radford

Royal Academy Sinfonia
Dominic Wheeler

John Fulljames – Director
Alex Lowde – Designer
Tina McHugh – Lighting
Mandy Demetriou – Choreography


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 12 March, 2008
Venue: Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75)They say that one of the most stressful events in our lives is moving house, and that falling in and out of love can be almost so. So spare a thought for most of the characters in Shostakovich’s “Cheryomushki” who are heading to the outskirts of town to get their keys to two-room apartments in the new development called Cherry Town. Imagine how the stress levels go up when the boss of the building-work withholds the keys and then the head of the construction firm decides to have two flats knocked into one for his own use, thus depriving museum worker Lidochka, her suitor Boris and her father Baburov their promised abode.

That’s the essence of this extraordinary work, heard in the Royal Academy of Music Opera department’s latest production in David Pountney’s ever-inventive translation that he created for his Opera North production (returning, incidentally, next year), in celebration of the work’s 50th-birthday. First seen in Moscow in 1958, “Paradise Moscow” (as Pountney re-titles it) is a comic operetta in the style of Gilbert & Sullivan, complete with satire about officialdom, witty patter-songs and, to end, a resort to some magic to put everything right. It also boasts what some of Shostakovich’s happiest and most carefree music, oscillating between rousing choruses, daft helter-skelter dances and charming lovelorn ballads.

Gerard McBurneyIn Gerard McBurney’s fantastic arrangement for small ensemble (two violins, cello, double bass, flute, clarinet, two saxophones, two trumpets, tenor trombone, piano, guitar and two percussionists) the score bristles with verve and playful exuberance, brilliantly played by the 15-strong Royal Academy Sinfonia under the tireless direction of Dominic Wheeler.

If the arrangement and the playing were the real stars of the evening, there was also much else to enjoy. Designer Alex Lowde’s movable stage-width and over head-height wooden set, complete with CCCP insignia formed a suitable backdrop, although the creation of the various flats in Cherry Town by reversing three of them was less successful. However, the final creation of the magic garden from white breeze blocks that seemed to form a map of the whole estate worked very well and the fountain-in-a-bucket which, when switched on, stopped the ‘baddies’ speaking also worked, as did the magic seat (where only the truth will be told).

I wondered during the first act whether Shostakovich and his librettists Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinsky knew Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town” (written 13 years earlier). Probably not, but it is intriguing that both include car-rides through their respective cities looking at the sights (or, in “On the Town”, recalling landmarks that have been pulled down in ‘Come up to my place’). Here the use of wheeled-chairs and two remote-controlled model cars replicated a chaotic journey through Moscow to Cherry Town.

While the singing was of a high standard, the decision to adopt Russian ‘accents’ may have been misguided. Gerald Collett and Kristen Darragh, as the couple Sasha and Masha who have had to live separately since their marriage, let their accent slip into parody German, while Christopher Diffey’s Sergei probably wisely bucked the trend and stuck to his Australian accent. The cast’s far-Eastern contingent largely coped well with Pountney’s tongue-twister translation and I especially liked Dong Jun Wang’s Drebedneyev and Kong Seok Choi’s Barabashkin’s patter-duet about having the right contacts, complete with synchronised foot movements.

Dancing – of which there was much – was more of a problem than the singing, especially when cast members were doing both at the same time. David Butt Philip’s Boris and Maria Matyazova’s Lidochka creditably performed a full ‘rock and roll’ number energetically (belying their Robin Day specs which seemed to be de rigueur eye-ware for many of the cast). I bet they were extremely glad for that part of the show to be over!

It’s a wonderful score, correcting a common-held view of Shostakovich as one of the dourest and oppressed composers of the 20th-century. If John Fulljames’s production doesn’t quite hit the highest values typical of Royal Academy Opera, then it is still a hugely enjoyable. After the final performance, 13 March, with the alternative cast, next up at Royal Academy Opera is Cavalli’s “La Calisto” (1 & 2 May) and, in November, Humperdinck’s “Hänsel und Gretel”.

  • This review is of the third performance
  • Paradise Moscow – Royal Academy of Music until 13 March at 7 o’clock – 020 7873 7300
  • Royal Academy of Music

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