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Opera on DVD: Cheryomushki

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Shostakovich, Cheryomushki (Cherry Town), O. Zabotkina, V. Vasilyev, directed by Gerbert Rappoport (1963)
(released July 10, 2007)
Dmitri Shostakovich's unlikely musical Moscow: Cheryomushki, an example of the odd genre of Soviet operetta, has had a few productions in recent years. Alex Ross wrote briefly about the production at the Bard Festival in 2004, and I wrote about a production at the Opéra National de Lyon later in the same year. For the first time outside Russia, you can now buy a DVD of a film version directed by Gerbert Rappaport in 1963. After initially disliking Cheryomushki, Shostakovich himself revised the musical score for this silly, sunny movie. The complaints, all minor, are the same that one would raise against American musical theater: the voices, with a few exceptions, are unfinished, and the plot is absurd. Those reservations aside, this piece is a fascinating and ironic look inside the Soviet Union, as if the wholesome characters of The Music Man suddenly found themselves living in Khrushchev's Moscow.

A cast of characters, tired of living on top of one another in old flats with their families, are trying whatever they can to get an apartment in the new post-WWII housing block going up in Cheryomushki (Cherry Town) outside the capital. And that means "тревога with a capital т" (the translation is not very good, I know). There are faintly critical jabs at government corruption, a reference to "re-education," but all with smiling faces. This production strikes exactly the right pose, with nothing subversive except the staggering ability to laugh at the daily disaster of the workers' paradise. At the center of it all is the happy-go-lucky Boris, played by the golden-haired, yellow-sweatered Vladimir Vasilyev. To this young man who calls himself a philosopher, who senses that he is different and trusts that all will work out as he wants it, Shostakovich gives some of the most suave and melancholy melodies. It is essential to place this Shostakovich, who can write the sweetest duet for the young lady crane operator Lyusya and her truck driver boyfriend, next to the more commonly known, bitingly ironic Shostakovich of Lady Macbeth and the fifth symphony (at least, if we believe Solomon Volkov). Our business is rejoicing, but it is also good to be zany.

Decca 074 3138

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