Who would ever have thought it! A "musical" by Shostakovich. And yes, the very same Dimitri Shostakovich who was responsible for the two grand operas The Nose and Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which are both classics of the serious lyric stage.
And what a joy it is. Paradise Moscow, as presented by Opera North, is serious entertainment and cannot be recommended too highly. This is musical theatre at its very best. Whether you love or hate opera, go see this superb production by David Pountney.
Paradise Moscow was written by Shostakovich in the post- Stalin 1950's, when the revolutionary straightjacket in which writers and composers of the Soviet Union had found themselves, was loosening. By then, it was no longer necessary to produce revisionist productions of classic work renamed (for example) The Struggle for the Commune (this by any other name was Tosca).
Paradise Moscow is a scathing satire of life in the post- war Soviet capital. It deals with the scramble for re-housing in a newly constructed apartment block by the downtrodden comrades, and the bribery and corruption by which they're deprived of it by self-serving party bureaucrats. Although the style of the work is not dissimilar to Brecht and Weill's in- your- face agitprop musicals of pre-war Berlin, it's essentially a joyous work with some wonderful music. And, by George, there's plenty of it. Gypsy rhythms, cod rock 'n roll, stirring Russian melodies and tributes to Lehar, Tchaikovsky and others - all delivered in a manner which bears the composer's unmistakable hallmark.
This is truly an ensemble piece, mixing singers who can act, actors who can sing and dance, and even dancers and actors who can just about carry a tune. In a large cast, it's almost invidious to single out anyone for special praise, but theatregoers will be delighted by the performance of West End flavour- of- the-month, Janie Dee, as a straight-laced museum guide who finally lets her hair down in a love match with anarchist rocker Loren Geeting. They sing and dance up a storm to Craig Revel Horwood's inventive choreography. English National Opera aficionados, meanwhile, will love Richard Angas as the womanising and corrupt Party boss who finally gets his comeuppance.
Pountney's translation of the Russian text is witty and often downright funny, with some terrific stage effects played out against Robert Innes Hopkins' startling designs (lit by Simon Mills), which present a grey and soulless housing estate in stunning perspective. Conductor Steven Sloane and his orchestra make the most of the bombastic score.
Whatever your politics, forget the election, and cast your ballot for this show.
- Stephen Gilchrist (reviewed at the Grand Theatre in Leeds)