SHOSTAKOVICH: Cheryomushki (Cherry Town)
SHOSTAKOVICH: Katerina Izmailova
SHOSTAKOVICH: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Decca's issue of the 1963 Soviet film Cheryomushki, a Russian "musical comedy" one might say, is a fascinating and important document. The title refers to life in a housing project constructed in southwest Moscow in a vain attempt to alleviate Russia's massive housing problem of the late 1950s, so named because of the abundance of a bird-cherry tree in the area. Apparently Russians enjoyed light musical theater and beginning around 1930 most cities had their own orchestras and repertory companies presenting these Broadway-type productions. Earlier in his career, Shostakovich composed much film music, often of a comic, satiric nature, but it is surprising that this delightful score, composed in 1957, was written at the same time as his Symphony No. 11. It was commissioned by Grigory Stolyarov who in 1934 had conducted the Moscow premiere of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The score is brim-full of sprightly tunes, and Shostakovich doesn't hesitate to quote from his other works, and other composers as well. The operetta is about the lives of three young couples who try to aquire apartments in Cheryomushki, which apparently today is "a housing estate of decaying tower blocks, a dismal relic of 1950's Soviet planning." The film is in color, the sound monophonic. Subtitles are provided in six languages. Bonus features include A Shostakovich Chronology, excerpts from the Decca DVD of Katerina Izmailova reviewed below, and the documentary Shostakovich Against Stalin.
This site has already mentioned two DVDs of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, one from Gran Theatre del Liceu (REVIEW), the other a film that uses EMI's 1978 recording starring Galina Vishnevskaya as the soundtrack (REVIEW). Now we have two more DVDs. The first is Mikhail Shapiro's official 1966 color film heard in "enhanced mono." The opera here is called Katerina Izmailova, a change made by the composer. This performance also stars Vishnevskaya with other artists of the Shevchenko Opera and Ballet theatre conducted by Konstantin Simenov. However, she is the only singer who appears in the film. Shapiro's is a rather tame treatment of the story; he underplays the violence of the story and music—the rape/seduction scene is visually represented by a series of inappropriate paintings. Shapiro's film is of historic interest, but A rather brief excerpt from a documentary Shostakovich against Stalin is a plus.
If you're interested in Shostakovich's masterpiece, surely the DVD to own is the Opus Arte issue of last year's Netherlands Opera production recorded June 25 and 28, 2006 in Amsterdam's Muziektheatre, conducted by Mariss Jansons with an exceptionally fine cast. Eva-Maria Westbroek vocally and dramatically is totally convincing as the troubled Katerina. Martin Zehetgruber's sets are simple but effective. The brutality and realism of the story is not underplayed; there is a "warning" that "this production contains stroboscopic light effects, nudity and scenes of a sexual nature." A major element in the success of this issue is conductor Jansons, a specialist in music of Shostakovich, and the luxury of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's stunning playing. The 5.1 sound is outstandingly effective in capturing the huge orchestral/vocal outbursts, and TV Director and Producer Thomas Grimm and Ferenc van Damme have done their work with honor. Two disks include a documentary film by Reiner Montz about Shostakovich's opera including many interviews with those involved in this production. Terrific in every way!
R.E.B. (August 2007)