Paradise Moscow - Dimitri Shostakovich - Sadlers Wells

0n 26 May 2001, I went to Sadlers Wells to see the English version of Cheryomushki, which translated is Paradise Moscow, a brilliant satire of life in 1950s Moscow. Dimitri Shostakovich's operetta Cheryomushk is a gentle satire on Soviet bureaucracy, communal living and the bribery. The opera is about a couple that needs to obtain a new flat in a tower-block, Paradise Moscow is the name of the tower-block and is said to be everyone's answer to their dreams of paradise. Four or five-bedroom apartments(very few new apartment blocks were being built) were being divided and partitioned off into living accommodation for 10 or 12 families, sharing the same lavatory and kitchen!Built in vast barren fields in the Moscow suburbs, it was only after the so-called "Lucky" tenants had moved in that they realised there was no public transport. The shops and other facilities were miles away and there was no entertainment, only windy vistas of open spaces and tower blocks as far as the eye could see. In a few years they had deteriorated into rubbish dumps.

Cheryomushki was written in 1958 during the brief Khrushchev thaw when making mild fun of politicians was more or less accepted. But this production throws "political correctness" to the wind and makes it a wholehearted attack on the Soviet system. The most corrupt figure of the lot is the Estate Manager Barabashkin who finally gets what he deserves.

It had its British premiere in 1990s in a reduced orchestration by Gerard McBurney and in a generally witty rhyming-couplet translation by David Putney. Revised and expanded, this formed the core of Opera North's new staging as Paradise Moscow, which was rapturously received at the Grand, Leeds, and now at Sadlers Wells. The cast is a mixture of opera singers, musical comedy singers and dancers. It has toe-tapping music and two big dance sequences. There are honest workers to cheer and bureaucratic villains to hiss (echoes of pantomime!!) and an opera chorus of "hard hats" (hard hats are what all workers on building sites are now compelled to wear) having a great time joining in with the dance routines.

Steven Sloane conducts with zip and panache. One critic thought it too long, partly because the story seems dated (although not, he suspected, in Moscow, even without Communism!). Shostakovich's tunes just aren't catchy enough as Schostakovich - whilst a master of the symphony - is not an operetta composer! There is fun with museum statues coming to life and a dance featuring Marx, Lenin and Stalin. The stars are Loren Geeting as a wide-eyed boy straight out of Oklahoma! and Janie Dee is a bespectacled museum guide who literally lets her hair down and dances excitingly when swept off her feet by Boris, an explosive expert and an exaggerated Soviet Elvis!There was also a ballet of vacuum cleaners, dancing cocktail cabinets and kitchens made of Formica reminded me of a post-war domestic Utopia. Two young married people, Sasha and Masha, long for a flat so that they can give up their attempts to achieve marital bliss in some Soviet enterprise park or public foyer ("I'll see you later, at the Bolshoi Theatre". )

Lusya -a construction worker - played by Rachel Taylor; Drebednyov - a rich bureaucrat - by Richard Angus; Barabashkin - the Estate Manager by Campbell Morrison; Lidochka - a museum guide by Janie Dee; Sasha and Masha by Daniel Broad and Gilian Kirkpatrick plus a cast of minor characters, builders and tenants.


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