Melbourne, Cheremushki

Victorian-Opera-Melbourne-Cheremushki-photo-by-Charlie-KinrossThe morning following Wednesday night’s opening of Victorian Opera’s Melbourne, Cheremushki, The Age reported, “Housing rental system broken all round.”

That’s how pertinent and present-day Dmitri Shostakovich’s only operetta, Moscow, Cheryomushki – a sharp-witted work that comments on the chronic housing shortages and difficulties of securing liveable conditions in 1950s Moscow – feels today.

The team at Victorian Opera have brought together a fabulously whacky, judiciously mastered and Melbourne contextualised retelling of the work incorporating savvy direction by Constantine Costi, exceptional young artists and a carnival of Shostakovich’s parodic and infectious music in a fresh new guise, Melbourne, Cheremushki.

Amongst the relentless high-energy and light-hearted veneer the work paints, a dark core of desperation on one hand and greed on the other plays out as a group of new tenants face a corrupted system in their newly acquired public housing estate, Cheryomushki

Lively amorous liaisons and deftly intertwined social interactions keep the plot churning to a conclusion that relies on surrealist intervention to expose the rottenness of the system. Who could’ve guessed that truths are told and lies caught out simply by sitting on a park bench?

Costi effortlessly transplants the fast-paced action concocted by original librettists Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinsky on all-too-familiar Melbourne life where a keen sense of real estate lingo is as common as a VB and soy latte.

There is also a corny, filmed trip around Melbourne to get the new tenants to their estate, a nifty interaction with Young and Jackson’s celebrated Chloe and fast-food reliance on Whacka’s – Costi is never short on his own use of parody. 

Characters are richly realised and there is plenty of cheeky raunchiness thrown in – probably just as much as the average person thinks about sex in a day. As movement director, Shannon Burns certainly has a remarkably creative and entertaining way of showing us!

Making up the show’s sophisticated visual backbone, Dann Barber’s off-form concrete-like set design undergoes cleverly shifting transformations and lighting designer Lisa Mibus casts a brooding edge that manages to relay en pointe familiarity to Sabina Myers’ various costume designs.

A hard-working ensemble of 25 emerging artists are clearly enjoying themselves in the job. Without elaborating on the details, suffice to say, all manner of spice in voice and acting is invested by all.

The 10 character roles beamed, making them irresistibly rewarding to encounter — Matan Franco (museum guide and newlywed Sasha), Syrah Torii (Sasha’s wife Masha), Eamon Dooley (Sasha’s father Semyon), Teresa Ingrilli (Lidochka, a fellow museum guide of Sasha’s), Douglas Kelly (explosives expert Boris), Michael Dimovski (Sergey, an old acquaintances of Boris), Leah Phillips (young construction worker Lyusya eyed by Sergey), Alastair Cooper-Golec (Drebednyov, the Cheryomushki bureaucrat who allocates apartments), Amanda Windred (Drebednyov’s lover Vava) and Nicholas Beecher (Drebednyov’s lower ranked estate manager Barabashkin).

Voices are miked and the artists project with excellent overall diction despite chorus numbers not quite reaching the same level of clarity.

In the pit, young conductor Simon Bruckard brings ebullient life to the party and thoughtfully honed feeling to Shostakovich’s score – originally written for large orchestra – with his 14 musicians in an arrangement by British composer Gerard McBurney. 

Of his own work, Shostakovich admitted days before its premiere in 1959 that it was “Boring, unimaginative, stupid.” Don’t believe a word of it!

In its marvellous Melbourne update, in what is it’s Australian premiere, the work could be entertaining a broad cross-sectional audience well beyond its four performance run. 

Melbourne, Cheremushki
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 22 March 2023
Season continues to 25 March 2023
Information and Bookings:

Image: Melbourne, Cheremushki – photo by Charlie Kinross

Review: Paul Selar