Opera: Dmitri Shostakovich / Cherry Town

If you know anything about the work of Dmitri Shostakovich there are some adjectives that will come to mind to describe his canon, and probably none of them are these: 

Ebullient
Sparkling
Lighthearted
Fun 

This is why I am fascinated by his foray into scoring for musical theater called Cheryomushki (EN: “Cherry Town”).

It is as if the bigwigs at the USSR’s Ministry of Culture screened a few classic MGM musicals, grew green with envy over falling far behind their global rival in light entertainment and, with the boost to national pride following the success of the Sputnik launch, decided that there is nothing the USSR could not do better than the USA if the right manpower was tasked with overtaking them. And so they gifted the world with this wack surrealist film curio for all to enjoy. 

Cherry Town - A musical Opera by Dmitri Shostakovich

Cherry Town is not so much a film musical as a grand filmed operetta with ballet moves all over the place and dialogue thrown in to keep the tiny plot hopping around. The story is circa 1962 and concerns a pair of boomer Muscovite couples who are trying to get into a new housing project. Bureaucratic intrigues abound which confound their dreams, a few party hacks try to game the system but are thwarted in the end by the plucky youngsters. 

There were many musicals and musical comedies in the Soviet era – Cossacks of the Kuban, Carnival Night, A Musical Story and Springtime, to name a few. In researching Russian film musicals I admit I was surprised at how much easy escapist entertainment their studios churned out. Who knew life under Stalin was so much fun? (Ha). 

But Cherry Town still stands apart as a very different property. First of all, the music was composed by the second-greatest Soviet composer of the 20th century (he’s no Prokofiev, IMO, but no one challenges Shostakovich for the #2 spot).

Secondly, unlike the rather staid character of the standard Soviet musical, Cherry Town dares to be completely daft. The colors, the ballet sequences in empty apartments, the opera buffa turns by cartoon apparatchiks. Top-billed stars in this proletarian extravaganza are Olga Zabotkina and Vladimir Vasilyev, who, like most of the cast, come not from the world of theater, film, or opera but from the ballet. The cast brings the verve of the dance to their parts which is a unique energy in a musical, the legacy of MGM’s stable of tap hoofers notwithstanding.

The film’s shaky production values – like rear projection so amateurish it’s like Jean-Luc Godard was let loose in Universal Studios’ TV post-production bays – just adds to the dreamlike feel of it all. 

The film available on YouTube has subtitles in the CC, but you don’t need English translation to understand this wild bit of utopian surrealism:

Admit, you capitalist dog, that you, like the stars of this film, waltzed the night away in your mind with others in the homeowner’s association when you dreamed of closing on your first mortgage. 

Just from that alone the film should be revived and subtitled for streaming in the USA. With interest rates currently holding at 6.5% APR, I think this opera should be translated and adapted for modern day America. Buying a condo today is at least as corrupt and hopeless as it ever could have possibly been in the good old USSR.