Watching Shostakovich’s operetta from the post-Stalin 1950s in the current climate of Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine is unsettling in certain ways. There are subversive satirical and ironic elements as disgruntled residents are pitted against the corrupt bosses in charge in this film, whose title is adapted from Cheryomushki, meaning Cherry Trees, named after one of Nikita Khrushchev’s housing projects for reconstructing Moscow, but it’s generally light and uninteresting.
Without a doubt, The Nose and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, Shostakovich’s two actual operas, lack the pungency and intensity they do. Even in David Pountney’s racy translation, dialogue is stilted with little to no plot, and at an hour and 50 minutes with no intermission, it feels doubly drawn out.
This is despite the clever paradox of demolition man Boris (Dafydd Allen), who blows up the old properties to make way for the new, and Lidochka (Rusn Tulait), with her shades of nihilism. For the young performers of the Welsh National Youth Opera, the repertoire was not evident.
But it’s impossible to dismiss the vigor with which they approach the issues in this production. The History of the Reconstruction Museum’s exhibit of a urinal comes off the wall to be brandished in one of many songs and dance routines, updating it to the less drab 1980s.
Director Daisy Evans and designer Loren Elstein go for a zany romp, maximizing the theatricality, cheerfully taking Mikhail out of it all, with a Duchamp dadaist touch. Anjali Mehra, the director of the movement, gives this finesse and wit.
The pastiche by Shostakovich is upbeat and jazzy, with a touch of Russian sorrow. The 18 WNO members in the pit appear to be having joy as conductor Alice Farnham moves the action ahead while using Gerard McBurney‘s chamber orchestra arrangement.
However, they are doubtless grumbling at the chorus from Cheryomushki, which is catchy the first time but ultimately gets old. When miked up, many of the lead vocalists exhibit impressive vocal promise for the future. Everyone enthusiastically engages in the pantomime and slapstick, which is how I, if not exactly so, responded to it.