Music by Dmitri Shostakovich
The musical ‘Rent’…..Russian stye
|Chicago Opera Theater presents|
Review by Katy Walsh
I first became interested in opera by watching a movie. In “Philadelphia”, Tom Hanks describes a scene from “Andrea Chenier”. As Maria Callas is singing powerfully, belting out her aria, Hanks is describing her anguish. That was THE moment I started to immerse myself in this passionate genre. I’ve seen probably 100 operas. Most of them were heavy-duty subject matters: insanity, incest, murder… sometimes all three. Opera is as dramatic as theatrics get. Love is most often punishable by death. But every once in a while, love survives with an operatic flourish of pure pleasure.
Chicago Opera Theater presents Moscow, Cheryomushki. Housing, unemployment, socialism, Moscow is facing troubling economic times. And even worse, love is struggling to bloom. Sasha and Masha, a couple of newlyweds, are forced to live apart. Sergei adores Lusya from afar… she’s on top of a crane. Boris is trying to find love that conveniently comes with an apartment. Vava wants to be married, but to a sugar daddy. When a new housing complex opens up, everyone is looking to shack up. But who really holds the keys to their happiness? Moscow, Cheryomushki is the musical “Rent”… Russian style.
I’m certain I’ve never described an opera as peppy or feisty or sassy. This one is all three. Moscow, Cheryomushki is a fun-loving romp. Cheryomushki welcomes visitors with promises of better lives. And this opera delivers on that pledge with larger-than-life exhilaration. On a stage of scaffolding, Director Mike Donahue fills the town with vibrant personalities. The chorus mingles with the principals for a big joyful spectacle. For poor people with no place to live, this group harmonizes with a rich, robust sound. Not only does the ensemble resonate frolicsome melodies, they really seem to be having fun doing it. It’s quite the love-fest by the story’s dictation and the cast’s decision. The jocular familiarity spills over into other realms as the talented cast interact with the orchestra and even the audience.
Under the high-spirited baton of Alexander Platt, there are multiple lovable duets. The enthusiastic and sexually frustrated Adrian Kramer (Sasha) and Emily Fons (Masha) charm with their singing and make-out antics. Their interactions are both hilarious and hot. In a smoldering flirtation, Sara Heaton (Lidochka) and Paul LaRosa (Boris) allure with a classic con-falls-for-pawn storyline. The pairing dance and sing with old-fashion enchantment. Another standout in this magical town is Ashleigh Semkiw (Vava), strutting her material girl ways with pride and perfect comedic timing.
There is a lot to love about Moscow, Cheryomushki! I especially enjoyed the effervescent and sometimes fluorescent costumes. Anya Klepikov dresses the cast in vibrant 50’s vintage looks. For work uniformity, a clever Klepikov puts bright yellow construction vests with orange stripes over the playtime wear. The look is amusing and sets the tone for work over recreation.
For seasoned and novice opera goers, you will fall hard for Moscow, Cheryomushki, especially if you’re in the mood for love.
Moscow, Cheryomushki continues through April 25th at Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph (map, parking). Tickets are $25-$125, and are available by phone (312-704-8414) or online here (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoOperaTheater.org. (Running time: 3 hours, includes intermission)
All photos by Liz Lauren
Adrian Kramer (Sasha); Emily Fons (Masha); Sara Heaton (Lidochka); Paul Scholten (Baburov); Paul LaRosa (Boris); Ashleigh Semkiw (Vava); Dominic Armstrong (Sergei); Matt Boehler (Drebednev); Paul Corona (Barabashkin); Sophie Gordeladze (Liusia)
behind the scenes
Alexander Platt (conductor); Mike Donahue (director); Anya Klepikov (sets, costumes); Julian Pike (lighting); Eric Sean Fogel (choreography); Meg Miroshnik (new English adaptation); Gerard McBurney (arrangements); Liz Lauren (photos)
3 Words: Enjoying her first opera, my cousin Jennie describes it with ‘lively, playful, upbeat.’