Moscow, Cherry Town
What: West coast premier of opera by Dmitri Shostakovich, presented by Long Beach Opera
Where: Center Theatre, 300 East Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine; Barnum Hall. 601 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica
When: Sunday at 2 p.m. (Long Beach;) Wednesday at 8 p.m. (Irvine;) Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. (Santa Monica.)
Information: (562) 432-5934, www.longbeachopera.org
By John Farrell
In the long, often frustrating and often glorious career of the man many consider the greatest composer, Russian or otherwise, of the 20th century, his operetta “Moscow, Cherry Town” is generally a historical foot note.
Shostakovich wrote the work, the longest of anything he ever wrote (and that is saying something) but apparently was ambivalent about it at its premiere in Moscow in 1959. That didn't stop it from being a hit at home, and a frequently replayed Soviet television special until it vanished from view in 1971, apparently the victim of the death of the operetta (a victim who has not surprisingly returned to vibrant life in the last 20 years.)
Called “Moskva, Cheryomushki” in Russian transliteration and boasting a libretto by Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinky, noted Soviet humorists of the time, the story is one that would never had been told under the regime of the repressive Stalin, who loaded honors on Shostakovich but also twice (in 1936 and 1948) had his music denounced publicly. Indeed, his opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” from 1934, was sharply criticized by the local Soviet press apparently on Stalin's orders. (That didn't discourage Los Angeles Opera, nearly 70 years later, from producing a lively performance in October 2002.)
“Cherry Town” was as up-to-date as daily headlines, telling the story of newly-wed museum guide and his bride, an explosives expert, a government chauffeur and a construction worker, all assigned to the new apartment complex in Cherry Town, one of the most up-to-date residential districts in Moscow. But the problems begin when the new landlord refuses to hand over the keys, and get worse when the couple finally get into their apartment only to find that their next-door neighbor is cutting a hole through the wall to make two apartments into one to impress his would-be girlfriend. Russian bureaucracy and the housing problem that plagued Moscow in the decades after World War II are in sharp and ironic focus, and some critics find it surprising that Shostakovich was ever allowed, even in the somewhat relaxed Khrushchev era, to put the operetta on at all.
Not at all surprising, though, that Long Beach Opera is offering the west coast premier of the work in three performances at three different venues throughout the southland. It opens this Sunday with a performance at the Center Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m., then moves to the Irvine Barclay Theater for a performance at 8 p.m. next Wednesday and finishes with a third performance next Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Barnum Hall in Santa Monica at 2 p.m.
The production is directed by Isabel Milenski, a company veteran who is the daughter of Long Beach Opera founder Michael Milenski, who has directed such LBO productions as Janacek's “Jenufa” and Richard Strauss' “Die schweigsame frau.” The company's Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek will conduct all three performances, which will be sung in English with supertitles. The cast includes Andrew Fernando as Sasha, Peabody Southwell as Masha, Valerie Vinzant as Lidochka, Benito Galindo as Semyon Semyonovich and John Atkins as Boris.
Left to Right: Roberto Gomez (Fyodor Drebednev- Russian bureacrat), Robin Buck (Barabashkin-Real Estate Manager), Suzan Hanson (Vava - Drebednev's lover)