Moscow, Cheryomushki (Russian: Москва, Черемушки; Moskva, Cheryomushki) is an operetta in three acts by Dmitri Shostakovich, his Op. 105. It is sometimes referred to as simply Cheryomushki. Cheryomushki is a district in Moscow full of cheap subsidized housing built in 1956, and the word is also commonly used for such housing projects in general.
The libretto was written by the experienced team of Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinsky, leading Soviet humorists of the day. The satirical plot dealt with a topical theme geared to one of the most pressing concerns of urban Russians, the chronic housing shortages and the difficulties of securing livable conditions. Cheryomushki translates to “bird-cherry trees” and the operetta was named after a real housing estate in southwest Moscow.
The work was completed in 1958 and received its premiere in the capital on 24 January 1959. The operetta is reminiscent of Shostakovich’s popular music of the period, yet at the same time it engages a satirical assessment of the housing redevelopments in Moscow.
In a musical career which spans half a century, Shostakovich occupied himself with a diverse range of genres and styles. Beyond the fifteen symphonies and fifteen string quartets, the lesser-known works of Shostakovich offer intrigue and interest likewise. With the reappraisal of Shostakovich in recent times, this category of light music is beginning to enjoy unprecedented popularity within concert halls and record catalogues.
Cheryomushki belongs in this category of works. While the light idiom lent the operetta some initial success, the ailing work soon became forgotten in the Soviet operetta repertoire. For a long time the work remained unknown in the West, and this is partially linked to the decline of the operetta form in the post-war years, and the emergence of newer genres such as the musical. Yet perhaps its short commercial shelf life was not unexpected, given that the operetta was regarded as a work of light entertainment, and with that its emphasis on contemporary social issues and popular culture references.
The operetta tells the story of a group of friends and acquaintances who have been granted new apartments in this residential development. The different aspects of the housing problem are represented by each of the many characters.
- Sasha, after his recent marriage to Masha, finds that the young couple cannot live together as they have no home. Sasha shares a communal apartment with one of his fellow museum guides, Lidochka and her father, Semyon Semyonovich, while, on the other side of town, Masha shares a room in a temporary hostel.
- Boris is an explosives expert, who sought to settle in Moscow having worked in many parts of the Soviet Union. In the opening of the operetta, Boris encounters an old acquaintance, Sergei, who works as a chauffeur for a high-ranking official. Sergei meets and falls in love with Liusia, a young alluring construction worker from the Cheryomushki site.
- The seven “good” characters are unsurprisingly confronted by enemies with conflicting interests. Fyodor Drebednev is an obnoxious bureaucrat who is responsible for the building of the Cheryomushki estate and the allocation of the apartments. Drebednov has been married three times, but now has a new partner, Vava, a Machiavellian young woman who uses her affair as a means of acquiring a new apartment. Barabashkin is the lower-rank estate manager, who is likewise corrupt as his superior, Drebednov.
Moscow, Cheryomushki received its premiere on 24 January 1959 at the Mayakovsky Operetta Theatre under Grigori Stolyarov. It was revived on 8 February 2004 at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, on 17 December 2004 at the Opéra Nouvel of Lyon it also embarked on a UK Tour with Opera North and played at the Brignez opera festival with Summer Strallen as Lidochka and Richard Leavey, Michelle Pentecost and Lee Meadows in the Ensemble, April 2012 at Chicago Opera Theater.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast,
24 January 1959
(Conductor: Grigori Stolyarov)
|Sasha, a guide at the Museum of the History and Reconstruction of Moscow||baritone|
|Masha, Sasha's wife||mezzo-soprano|
|Lidochka, a fellow museum guide of Sasha's||soprano|
|Semyon Semyonovich, Lidochka's father||bass|
|Boris, an explosives expert||tenor|
|Sergei, works as a chauffeur for a high-ranking official and an old acquaintance of Boris||tenor|
|Liusia, a young and alluring construction worker from the Cheryomushki site||soprano|
|Fyodor Drebednev, a bureaucrat who works at the Cheryomushki construction site and who allocates apartments||tenor|
|Vava, having an affair with Drebednev||soprano|
|Barabashkin, a lower-rank estate manager||baritone|
- Time: 1950s
- Place: Cheryomushki District in southwest Moscow
The old house where Sasha, Lidochka and her father lived subsides. Consequently Sasha and his wife Masha, as well as Lidochka and her father, are granted newly built apartments in Cheryomushki. The group are driven to the estate by Sergei, who knows Cheryomushki since his on-off girlfriend Liusia worked there, and by Boris, who has fallen in love with Lidochka. Unfortunately, when they arrive, the estate manager Barabashkin is unwilling to hand over the keys, restricting access to many of the apartments.
Since Barabashkin will not give up the keys, Boris cunningly uses the construction crane to lift Lidochka and her father into their new apartment through their window. While they are settling into their new home, Drebednov and Barabashkin abruptly burst through a hole in the wall from the adjacent flat. The new occupants are ejected, but Barabashkin’s intentions are uncovered. He has refused to give Lidochka and her father the keys in order that Drebednov, who allocated the adjacent apartment to his girlfriend, could please her by illegally taking two apartments and joining them together to make more luxurious accommodation. By doing this, the old lecher tried to ensure Vava’s continuing devotion. After the corruption of Drebednov is revealed, Sasha and Masha hold a housewarming party at their flat, where the good characters agree to defeat Drebednov and Barabashkin.
In the closing scene, Boris attempts to exploit a previous liaison with Vava by making love to her when he knows Drebednov will see them, thus undermining their affair. However, his underhand plot is dismissed by his idealistic friends, who seek a less realistic solution. Liusia helps the tenants create a magic garden, complete with a bench, where bureaucrats are not heard and only the truth is told. Consequently, Drebednov and Barabashkin confess their crimes and are vanquished. They all live happily ever after.
For this satirical but light-hearted take on contemporary living in the Soviet Union, Shostakovich conceived one of his longest compositions. With an epic score running over one hundred minutes without dialogue, Cheryomushki covers a bewildering variation of styles, from pieces of the Romantic idiom to the most vulgar popular songs. Shostakovich himself was one of the work’s first critics, and he became deeply disillusioned and embarrassed with its crudity. Just days before the piece’s premiere in the Moscow Operetta Theatre, he wrote to his acquaintance Isaak Glikman:
- I am behaving very properly and attending rehearsals of my operetta. I am burning with shame. If you have any thoughts of coming to the first night, I advise you to think again. It is not worth spending time to feast your eyes and ears on my disgrace. Boring, unimaginative, stupid. This is, in confidence, all I have to tell you.
Moscow , Cheryomushki is perhaps one of the most revealing examples of Shostakovich’s enduring compositional fascination with parody, referencing and quotation. In the first fantasy sequence, Shostakovich parodies the choreographed style of classical ballet, with an imitation of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. Here the newly married couple, Sasha and Masha, fantasise of the apartment where they will one day live. An elegant dance is initiated by the romantic hero and heroine, but before long they are joined on the stage by Soviet domestic items which they desire- furniture, a modern fridge and a vase. In a moment of light-hearted absurdity, these objects also begin to dance.
Soviet ethnomusicologists have long asserted that Cheryomushki is abundant with intonations of popular Soviet material. In the second fantasy scene, “Lidochka and Boris’s Duet”, Shostakovich parodies the nationalist aesthetics of the Mighty Handful. This is the scene in which the infatuated Boris smuggles Lidochka into her apartment on the crane. With its mock medieval melody, the parallel fifths in the bass line and the use of a horn solo, the orchestral introduction recalls a retrospective style, reminiscent of Yaroslavna’s arioso from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor or the first bars of the “bardic” slow movement from Borodin’s 2nd Symphony. For the Soviet audiences, the intonation of popular styles would have been immediately recognisable.
In 1963, Lenfilm released a film version directed by Gerbert Rappaport, under the shorter title Cheryomushki. The film featured additional music by Shostakovich.
Pimlico Opera recorded the piece with an English libretto in 1995 on tape and CD, distributed with BBC Music Magazine Volume 3, Number 8.
- Fay, p 231
- Amadeus Almanaccco, accessed 29 March 2011
- Fay, Laurel (1999), Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford University Press.
- MacDonald, Ian (1990). The New Shostakovich. Oxford University Press.
- McBurney, Gerald, (2004). “Fried Chicken in the Bird-Cherry Trees”, in Faye, Laurel (ed): Shostakovich and his World. Princeton University Press.
- Wilson, Elizabeth (2006). Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. Faber and Faber Limited