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Apartment Hunting, Soviet Style

Orange County
Irvine Barclay Theater
05/15/2011 -  and May 18*, 22, 2011
Dmitri Shostakovich: Moscow, Cherry Town
Andrew Fernando (Sasha), Peabody Southwell (Masha), Valerie Vinzant (Lidochka), Benito Galindo (Semyon Semyonovich), John Atkins (Boris), Vincent Chambers (Sergei), Jamie Chamberlin (Liusia), Roberto Perlas Gomez (Fyodor Drebednev), Suzan Hanson (Vava), Robin Buck (Barabashkin)
Long Beach Opera Orchestra, Andreas Mitisek (Conductor)
Isabel Milenski (Director), Jian Jung (Scenic Designer), Leah Piehl (Costume Designer), D.M. Wood (Lighting Designer), Tanya Kane-Perry (Choreographer)

(© Keith Ian Polakoff)

From lenses of the Western World, the extent of repressive measures imposed by Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev, may be hard to fathom, yet these infamous leaders led the Motherland’s masses into an aura of discontent and disillusionment. Additionally, life and times reflected in music by Russian composers were scrutinized under the watchful eyes of “big brother.” Dmitri Shostakovich’s music, characteristically heavy and broody, possesses occasional dashes of brightness which can, at times, take on a rather mocking stance.

Frequently snubbed and humiliated, Shostakovich was a sort of “whistle blower”, expressing governmental protestations through his compositions. Long Beach Opera provides a lucid example of this in the staging of the operetta, Moscow, Cherry Town (1958) under the direction of Isabel Milenski. It works. The parody delves into the lives of a handful of married couples and lovers in desperate search of obtaining a new apartment found on the outskirts of Moscow. Jian Jung’s set features an out of kilter construction crane, a larger-than-life single eye (“Big Brother” is watching) and red outlined maps of the Soviet Union (complete with hammer and sickle), to name a few. Despite the simplicity and vacuous space, it allows ample elbow room for the cast to move about.

Leah Piehl’s costuming is in the period appropriate 1950s, providing sufficient contrast to differentiate all ten principals. The operetta moves along in brisk tempo, set by conductor Andreas Mitisek with excellent orchestration and quirky percussion by the Long Beach Opera Orchestra. Reminiscent of a Broadway musical, there’s even a number that reminds us of “Cocktail Counterpoint” from La Cage Aux Folles! Moscow, Cherry Town can been seen as a series of separated “micro vignettes”, lasting no longer than a few minutes, connected with spoken dialogue (English translation by David Pountney) while retaining a coherent storyline.

(© Keith Ian Polakoff)

This production has old and new faces. The plot focuses around Boris and Lidochka, sung by returning John Atkins and debuting Valerie Vinzant, respectively. Their acting is lively and punchy, especially during the scene, “Soviet Rock” in which they both demonstrate their pliability despite Ms. Vinzant’s rather weak vocal projection.

(© Keith Ian Polakoff)

Another pairing is returning Suzan Hanson as the brassy swishy blonde bombshell, Vava, who kisses up to (and eventually marries) Fyodor Drebednev, performed by Roberto Perlas Gomez. Their stage presence is solid and assured.

Robin Buck plays the druken and power hungry Barabashkin who draws particular hilarity alongside Gomez when dressed in white ballet tutus during the satirical take of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. Peabody Southwell is a stunning and sassy Masha; Vincent Chamber’s Sergei sings with crystal clarity amidst his on-off relationship with the bold and no-nonsense crane-driver Liusia, performed by Jamie Chamberlin.

Choreography, an integral part in maintaining momentum, is handled by Tanya Kane-Parry in exceptional fashion, moving characters on and off stage with a measured flow…one of the reasons why this Moscow, Cherry Town gels well.

“Light, vibrant and satirical” are words that can describe this Shostakovich operatic work. If you haven’t seen it, one more performance remains at Barnum Hall. It’s well worth the visit to Santa Monica. Long Beach Opera does it again!

Christie Grimstad



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