Chicago Opera Theater (COT) offers a very unique evening of music, opera and some dance overlaid with an historical political setting…including corruption for flavor. It is obviously relevant for today’s world. Moscow, Cheryomushki begins with Lusya, Foreman of the building site of the 1950’s, high on a crane intruducing the concept of the “collective will,” which she intersperses throughout the show. Humor, satire, disappointment, joy and just good fun come from hard reality meeting dreams. The major conflict of the opera arises from the shortage of housing in Moscow, and its attendant problems for romance, but a lot of kissing plays its role, too.
Every principal carries their songs in character beautifully! While Sophie Gordeladze (soprano) is the voice of the state, she is also a sweet treat as Lusya. Sara Heaton (soprano) as Lidochka vocally conveys the skeptical female of the three and works very well with (baratone) Paul LaRosa’s Boris, the gadabout. (bass) Matt Boehler’s physical comedy plays with just enough of the required sleaze.
Cheryomushki means Bird-Cherry Estate. It is a south-west suburb of Moscow, which still exists today, giving the work significance with parodies of some actual events. The set by Anya Klepikov shows six cubicals of scaffolding for future apartments, but works well symbolically, as do her very colorful costumes. The set allows enough room for the singers and also the superb dancers, who add not only a great deal to move the story, but also the mood and atmosphere.
Unfortunately or fortunately, because of a technical malfunction shortly before curtain time, the fourteen member orchestra had to relocate behind the set rather than in the pit. This increased the reach of the singers especially during Act 1, and probably benefited the lighter songs. Acts 2 and 3 came through much better with stronger lyrics to the pieces, but the impact of Shostakovich’s music was still lessened this particular night…a correction to be made no doubt before the next performance. The only other change could be to shorten the length of the many running lines and jokes. A few lose their zip after so many repetitions.
Shostakovich lived during the entire Soviet Regime…and for sure walked a fine line as a creative artist. On the surface, Cheryo begins as a light-hearted romp with three couples and assorted workers responsible for the new apartment building and garden. It ends with the notion that anything is possible with the “collective will”, but the viewer can make his own decision about that.
Shostakovich described his first work of Nikolay Gogol’s “Nos” (1928-1930) as “Theater Symphony”, where text and music were in equilibrium. One could conclude that he carried this idea to his last opera as well with Cheryomushki, since the theater aspect is as prominent as his music, a perfect fit for the Chicago Opera Theater! The strict opera fan can rightly object to Cheryo as not following all of the traditional rules of the medium, but with an open mind…there is much to enjoy from this work. It also offers a wonderful bridge to encourage younger audiences to transition from musical play to opera. Definitely a unique, thought-provoking fun night!
Reviewed April 14, 2012
At the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Milenium Park
April 20 (7:30 p.m.), April 22 (3:00 p.m.) and April 25 (7:30 p.m.) Three hour performance with one intermission.
$45-$125 – Offers of half-off are available.
Contact Chicago Opera Theater: ChicagoOperaTheater.org or 312.704.8414
or Harris Theater: HarrisTheaterChicago.org or 312.334.7777