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Shostakovich – Paradise Moscow

Royal Academy Opera – 13 March 2008

Conductor – Dominic Wheeler
Director: John Fulljames
Designer: Alex Lowde
Choreographer: Mandy Demetriou
Lighting: Tina McHugh

Sasha: Gerrard Collett / Teit Kanstrup
Masha: Emma Carrington / Kristen Darragh
Lidochka: Maria Matyazova / Lisa Crosato
Baburov: Ross McInroy / Hyung Tae Kim
Boris: Emilien Hamel / David Butt Philip
Drebedneyev: Dong Jun Wang / Christopher Tonkin
Vava: Katerina Roussou /Charlotte Stephenson
Barabashkin: Marcin Gesla / Kong Seok Choi
Sergei: Richard Rowe / Christopher Diffey
Lysusya: Narine Ojakhyan / Katherine Crotty

I must admit to having a soft spot for this light-hearted piece of music theatre with its catchy, if oft-repeated, tunes. Shostakovich wrote it in the 1950’s, very much in the style of Salad Days and other western musicals of the time, throwing a healthy dollop of irony in with a romance of life in Soviet suburbia where “location, location” points straight to Cheryomushki or the Cherry-trees Estate.

It is a good ensemble piece, and the students of the Academy attacked it with exuberant enthusiasm. Their singing achieved a good overall standard despite some problems with sickness (the cast sheets in my programme were liberally sprinkled with asterisks indicating last minute replacements). Three performances stood out above the crowd: Katerina Roussou as the unashamedly acquisitive Vava, Maria Matyazova as the ever busy and efficient museum guide, and Emilien Hamel whose strong and distinctive baritone (Boris) overcame a host of problems.

The choreography of the crowd scenes was exceptional – the work of Mandy Demetriou at her best. Alex Lowde’s evocative designs set the scene perfectly and Dominic Wheeler conducted the orchestra with unflagging brightness. Sadly John Fulljames’s direction seemed to confuse rather than unfold the story, and there was some curious errors of judgement. Why, for example, was no attempt made to portray Barburov (who is Lidochka’s father) as anything older than the singer’s own age?

It was a sensible choice to use David Pountney’s excellent and colloquial translation, but with a high proportion of overseas singers in the cast the degree of clarity with which the words came over was very mixed – added to this (or perhaps in an attempt to disguise the problem) the native English speakers were required to adopt what I can only describe as phoney Russian accents, again obscuring the text quite alarmingly.

It was a brave attempt, but just missed achieving the wit and sparkle that is the essence of this piece and the number of empty seats in the auditorium confirmed the verdict. Within the space of the same week I attended two performances of GSMD’s La Vie Parisienne where the packed theatre and obvious delight of the audience were in total contrast.

Serena Fenwick

Photo credit Mark Whitehouse