COT’s young cast and lively production shine in Shostakovich’s charming “Moscow, Cheryomushki”

It’s ironic that a musical about the Soviet housing crisis and shoddy construction was nearly done in Saturday night by a malfunctioning elevator.
One hour before the curtain of Chicago Opera Theater’s season-opening performance of Shostakovich’s Moscow, Cheryomushki, the Harris Theater orchestra-pit elevator broke, rendering it inoperable for Saturday’s performance. The artistic staff had to scramble and quickly relocate the musicians at the back of the stage behind the sets with some on-the-fly adjustments to the stage action as well. As Jerry Tietz, director of artistic administration, put it in his remarks explaining the situation, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is live theater at its livest.”
Considering the last-minute chaos, the show went on with minimal visible distractions. The chamber orchestra had somewhat less presence but not enough to affect the performance and the cast gamely carried on even with conductor Alexander Platt invisible to the singers at the back of the stage. The only obvious glitch was a loud mechanical clicking that repeatedly intruded on the quiet moments in Act Two.
Operetta was a guilty pleasure for Shostakovich and hisMoscow, Cheryomushki became an unlikely hit in the Soviet Union in 1958. The romantic comedy concerns a group of Muscovites looking for apartments during the postwar Soviet housing crisis, specifically four couples trying to secure flats in the new development of Cheryomushki.
Moscow, Cheryomushki inhabits a different universe from the bleakness and death-head desolation of Shostakovich’s familiar symphonies and string quartets. The style hovers between operetta and musical theater, crafted in the light, populist vein of Shostakovich’s jazz suites, with snappy songs, ensembles, dance numbers, and lively choruses, often mining—and satirizing—material that would have been familiar to Russian audiences of the day.
Gerard McBurney’s reduction of the score from a huge Soviet orchestra to chamber ensemble takes its instrumentation from Shostakovich’s jazz suites and is done with consummate skill and sympathy.
Meg Miroshnik’s new libretto for this production proved more of a mixed bag. She was consistently inspired in matching lyrics to the music, yet somewhat less successful in the dialogue. Her free translation often took too liberal a hand with its jarring American colloquialisms. Also Lusya’s repeated straight-faced exhortations to the Cheryomushki residents’ “Collective Will” sounded more hollow and propagandistic than anything in the ironic, wryly subversive original. If anything, beneath the surface froth Moscow, Cheryomushki remains relevant in its message that people have a right and responsibility to stand up to entrenched bureaucracy and a government—any government—that seeks to forcibly impose its will and strip away their freedoms.
Anya Klepikov’s effective unit set offers a pair of three-story scaffolding towers symbolically painting the wedding-cake architecture of the era enhanced by her roll-on sets and colorful period costumes. Mike Donahue’s imaginative direction was an object case in making something out of minimal resources with Donahue investing his cast with a comic energy and youthful enthusiasm that largely carried the production through its nearly 180 minutes. (The last half-hour runs out of steam with an anticlimactic thud of a final scene that clearly needs some work.)
As Boris, the cynical ladies’ man who just wants to marry a woman with an apartment but unexpectedly falls for the prim museum guide Lidochka, Paul LaRosa sang well if overdoing the American swagger a bit too much, seeming more like an overgrown frat-house jerk at times than a likable hero. He showed some impressive physicality with his Russian dance moves, something they don’t teach you at the music conservatory.
Following up her impressive COT debut last year in Death and the Powers, Sara Heaton provided some of the best singing of the evening as the intellectual tour guide, Lidochka. She delivered her patter song about her extensive education with pinpoint clarity and precision and brought expressive depth to her melancholy aria when she and Boris have parted. The audience went wild over the extended dance sequence for her and LaRosa, with enthusiastic applause that literally stopped the show.
Dominic Armstrong was a consistently engaging presence as Boris’s shy chauffeur friend Sergei, showing ease in the musical vernacular and singing sweetly with his high tenor.  As the construction forewoman Lusya, the object of Sergei’s affections, Sophie Gordeladze sang with a gleaming voice in her Act 2 aria. Her cardboard character suffered the most in this new libretto, though the Georgian soprano showed personal courage in repeatedly climbing the side stage ladder to reach her “crane” high atop the Harris stage.
As the randy newlyweds Sasha and Masha, Adrian Kramer and Emily Fons provided spirited comedy and worthy singing, Fons’ high mezzo heard to particularly fine effect. Paul Scholten, as Lidochka’s displaced father Semyon, provided one of the vocal highlights with his nostalgic aria about old Moscow.
As Drebednyov, the Soviet apparatchik who uses his “connections” to steal an apartment for his wife Vava, Matt Boehler proved a worthy comic villain and Ashleigh Semkiw was a hoot as his manipulative sexpot wife.  Paul Corona was perfect casting as Barabashkin, the put-upon superintendent of Cheryomushki, singing with a booming bass-baritone and faultless comic timing.
Choreographer Eric Sean Fogel provided some lively moves for the singers who energetically threw themselves into the dance routines as well as more sophisticated ballet for the superb corps of professional dancers (Nebi Berhane, Jennifer Goodman, Craig Kaufman, Todd Rhoades and Teanna Zarro).
All credit to Alexander Platt and the orchestra who had to quickly convert themselves into an on-stage banda. Even with that last-minute retooling, Platt and his 14 musicians put across Shostakovich’s engaging score with terrific verve, brash energy and wit.
Don’t let the title and unfamiliarity put you off. Even with quibbles, Moscow, Cheryomushki is a hugely enjoyable evening for fans of opera as well as musical theater. There are only three more performances, so don’t wait to snap up a ticket. It’s unlikely that this delightful musical will come your way again.
Shostakovich’s Moscow, Cheryomushki will be repeated April 20, 22 and; 312-741-8414.

Poderoso Shostakóvich


Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. Director: David Afkham. Solista: Iréne Theorin. Obras de Wagner: Escena final de ‘El ocaso de los dioses’, y Shostakóvich: ‘Séptima sinfonía’. Auditorio Nacional, 14 de abril.

Lo que cambian las cosas con el paso del tiempo. Hace unos años se celebraba por todo lo alto la presencia de algún español en la orquesta de jóvenes Gustav Mahler, creada por iniciativa de Claudio Abbado en Viena en 1986. Ahora los apellidos españoles superan el 20% del total de la plantilla. Es un tema para meditar, porque no es la única orquesta europea de renombre en la que los músicos españoles jóvenes triunfan. Los deportistas de España no están solos en cuanto a prestigio internacional en los últimos años. Es un motivo de satisfacción.
Sustituyendo a Ingo Metzmacher, David Afkham ha venido a Madrid al frente de la fogosa orquesta. La presencia del joven director alemán generaba una enorme curiosidad tras los intentos fallidos de su fichaje en España, primero por la orquesta Filarmonía de Galicia y posteriormente por la Orquesta Nacional. No se puede afirmar por lo visto en el concierto del sábado si ha sido una pérdida irreparable o no su compromiso con alguna orquesta española. Son muchas y complejas las cuestiones que concurren en la titularidad musical de una orquesta. Lo que sí queda fuera de dudas es la enorme calidad de Afkham como director: claridad en los conceptos fundamentales, precisión en los contrastes dinámicos, sumo cuidado de los aspectos tímbricos, dominio más que sobrado de la parcela rítmica y gran facilidad para conjugar con acierto los diálogos entre secciones sonoras. Su Séptima de Shostakóvich fue modélica. La orquesta respondió con entrega y un entusiasmo al límite de la desmesura, aunque sin perder en ningún momento la racionalidad. El éxito, en estas condiciones, era predecible. Así fue, y además de gran calado.
Previamente a la sinfonía de Shostakóvich hubo una lectura de la escena final de El ocaso de los dioses,de Wagner, la de la inmolación de Brunilda, con el papel de la heroína wagneriana asumido por la soprano sueca Iréne Theorin. No quedará para el recuerdo esta primera parte del concierto. De entrada, comenzar una velada musical por una página de estas características es más que discutible, pero, en cualquier caso, a Wagner hay que tratarle con más cuidado. Una versión tan bullanguera como la que se ofreció es en cierto modo contraproducente y lleva inevitablemente a la superficialidad. En realidad todo estuvo en su sitio, tanto las aportaciones de la cantante como las del director y la orquesta, pero sin “pellizco”. La redención vendría de inmediato con Shostakóvich y su emblemática sinfonía Leningrado.
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Vengerov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic triumph

London, 24/03/2012. Barbican Hall. Maxim Vengerov, violin. St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Yuri Temirkanov, conductor. Sergei Prokofiev, Violin Concerto No.1 in D major,Op.19. Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No.7 in C major, Op. 60, “Leningrad”.

Audiences have had a long wait for the return of Maxim Vengerov. One of the world’s greatest violinists, he hasn’t been heard for several years due to health problems, conducting and teaching commitments. Even then his appearance with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic was by default, courtesy of Martha Argerich, who pulled out of a performance of Ravel’sConcerto in G a few weeks ago.
Hardly surprisingly then that his first steps into Prokofiev’s First Violin concerto proved a trifle inauspicious, the dashing virtuoso of old seemingly feeling his way into the swing of things. In the first movement the tone was less full, more lean, which somehow fitted with the more brittle passages of the grotesque second section but less with the “dreamy” opening part. The fiendishly difficult pyrotechnics of the second movement scherzo were efforlessly negotiated though with wit, verve and not a little style; Temirkanov and the orchestra playing an admirable supporting role in allowing Vengerov to strut his stuff. Soloist and orchestra came together fully in the concluding finale where Vengerov’s playing was at its most lyrical, quite rapt in its intensity and beautifully cushioned on a bed of woodwinds, leading to a sublime, dreamy coda.
A serene Bach sarabande was a fittingly restrained encore.
The orchestra came into its own for a resolute and deeply felt performance of Shostakovich’s 7th symphony. Often derided for the crude, banal war theme of the first movement, it has come to be more accepted as a major work in recent years. Those looking for a more “authentic” Russian sound may have been slightly disappointed here. There are fewer rough edges in this orchestra than in its previous incarnation, the Leningrad Philharmonic. There’s more refinement, especially in the brass section, but the dark, deep hues of the strings remain; a unique sound which pays dividends especially in the almost meditative grief of the central adagio. True to form, this was a no fuss, steady-as-she-goes performance. Temirkanov let the music speak for itself, and in doing so unravelled layer after layer of emotion in the darker, inner movements, which the glowing, transparent strings found full expression and colour. The outer movements were equally impressive. The long opening allegretto, with its repetitive battle theme was perfectly paced and superbly balanced; all sections perfectly audible in the fearsome tuttis generated at the climax. The sense of struggle in the face of evil (Hitler’s armies or Stalin’s purges, or both) in the final movement generated thrilling tension, with not a hint of bombast or overblown triumphalism.
No encore was needed – or wanted, after the ovewhelming barrage of sound heralding the final “Victory”, but there was one – a composed and well paced “Nimrod” from Elgar’sEnigma Variations.

Más de 130 músicos en Barcelona para la 'Quinta' de Shostakovich

Los estudiantes de la Escuela Superior se sumarán a los músicos de la OBC.

Los profesores de la Orquestra Simfónica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya (OBC), se juntarán con estudiantes de la Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC), por primera vez sobre un escenario, el del Auditori, todos dirigidos por el titular de la OBC, Pablo González. El evento se producirá el próximo viernes 30 de marzo a las 21.00 h, fruto de una nueva iniciativa de la Orquesta, que permitirá que 70 estudiantes del último curso del ESMUC toquen al lado de músicos profesionales.
Durante la primera parte del concierto, los estudiantes de la ESMUC interpretarán en solitario la Sinfonía nº 38 de Mozart, y en la segunda parte se unirán ambas orquestas (lo que significa más de 130 músicos en el escenario), para interpretar conjuntamente la Sinfonía nº 5 de Dmitri Shostakovich.
Pablo González es director de la OBC desde septiembre de 2010. Ganador del International Classical Music Award el año pasado por su disco grabado con la Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken-Kaiserslauten y la violinista Lena Neudauer, con obras para violín y orquesta de Schumann, para el sello Hänssler, ha sido director asociado de la Orquesta Sinfónica de Londres, y de la Sinfónica de Bournemouth, así como principal director invitado de la Orquesta Ciudad de Granada.
Hoy miércoles se realizará en la sala 5 del Auditori una conferencia vinculada a este concierto, dentro del ciclo OBC: CONVERSES, titulada “Un concierto con dos orquestas”, en la que participará Pablo González, junto a Josep Borrás, director de la ESMUC, y François Bou, gerente de la OBC.