"Shostakovich's music smiled, laughed, danced, mocked, was naughty, and sometimes a little sad..."


Before the premiere, the production director Ivan Popovski told us about his views on the "housing problem" and the details of working on an operetta.

– Were you not hesitant towards the offer to work in the "light" genre?

– Of course, I was hesitant, or rather, it caused some bewilderment on my part. But my great respect for Boris Pokrovsky and my gratitude to him for many hours of conversations (practically lessons) about Carmen, War and Peace, and about the opera in general, could not let me refuse. But also of course, I won’t lie, it may be the Chamber Stage, but still at the Bolshoi Theatre.

As for the "operetta", this is my first experience, and I like trying it out. And by the way, Shostakovich himself said that he got rid of his "snobbish" attitude towards art, and loves music of all genres, as long as it’s real music.

– In your opinion, what is the most important thing in working on an operetta?

– Just "fulfill" the genre. This "light" genre gives in with difficulty. I feel that the main thing in musical theater is to achieve one whole, an ensemble of completely different elements (musical, dramatic, visual, choreographic). So that nothing would "stick out", nothing would "pull the blanket towards itself". We try. Fight. Strive.

– Was the typically Soviet story difficult for you as a foreigner?

– I have been living and working in Russia for a very long time …

– Will it be a view through the modern day prism?

– No, the heroes remain in the Khrushchev era. It's the late fifties, when it got a little easier to breathe. Stalin had died quite recently, and even the smell of blood has not yet had time to dissipate, and what is there to say about the memory of the horrors of war, repression, hunger, fear ... Of course, all this has not gone anywhere, but despite this fear, people in Moscow, Cheryomushki live in such a joyful, and in some degree naive story of the Thaw period - a period of hope and light. I think this is lacking in today’s world.

– Will there be no politics in your performance at all?

– Completely. I enjoy music: hooligan, sparkling, bright, crazy music. Some will say that this is not the same Shostakovich! Yes, not the exact same - different, but still Shostakovich!

– How did your collaboration with maestro Pavel Klinichev develop?

– We spent a lot of time discussing the production, and, in my opinion, we managed to achieve a mutual understanding, create an alliance. I am very happy about this, because one of the main problems in opera, and respectively in a small opera - there is no "collusion" between the conductor and the director. This entails a gap or split between drama and music. It’s impossible to know how our story with maestro Pavel Klinichev and maestro Dmitri Shostakovich will end, but the process of our movement towards the goal is very pleasing.

– In the operetta there are lots of characters, in addition to the main ones, there are also builders, new settlers and even ballet! Will it not be cramped for them on the Chamber Stage?

– We are cramped, but I find it very interesting. Many people in a small space with low ceilings is one of images of our "housing problem".

Interview to Marina Kolosova

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Ivan Popovski. Photo by Pavel Rychkov

Cheryomushki was born thanks to the "persistent, urgent requests" of the chief conductor of the Moscow Operetta Theatre, Grigory Stolyarov. Shostakovich began writing in September 1957, however, he was soon interrupted due to his heavy workload. When ready, the composer sent separate scenes to the theatre. He repeatedly rewrote the music, "adjusting" it to the vocal abilities of the performers and creating several versions of the same number. The libretto was also corrected. Finally, in the October of 1958, the composition was ready.

Artist of the Moscow Operetta Theatre Grigory Yaron recalled: "I, like everyone else, was waiting for the most difficult "Shostakovich-stile" music, with the sharpest harmonic combinations - and this was so simple! But there was so much taste and nobility in its simplicity! The troupe fell in love with the music from the very first day. It caused a real furore inside the theatre when the actors heard the orchestra’s performance of the music. Shostakovich's music smiled, laughed, danced, mocked, was naughty, and sometimes a little sad..."

The composer, however, felt completely different before the premiere. "I’m overcome with shame," he wrote to his friend Isaac Glickman, "If you are planning to come to the premiere, I advise you to think again. It’s boring, feeble and stupid."

The premiere took place on January 24, 1959 at the Moscow Operetta Theatre. The production was carried out by directors Vladimir Kandelaki and Aron Zaks. It was conducted by Grigory Stolyarov. It received the warmest reception from both the public and critics. The newspaper "Izvestia" called Cheryomushki one of the greatest successes of the theatrical season. Performances soon followed in Rostov-on-Don, Odessa, Sverdlovsk, Bratislava, Prague, Magadan, Zagreb, various cities of the GDR and Czechoslovakia. And after two years the film Cheryomushki (directed by Herbert Rappaport) was shot, based on the operetta.

The return of the composer to musical theatre after the "anti-formalist campaign" of the 30s and, moreover, his debut in the "light" genre was greatly and impatiently anticipated. According to the memoirs of Grigory Yaron, "the news that Shostakovich was writing an operetta was met with great interest. How? The composer who wrote the Seventh Symphony, and recently the Eleventh, suddenly composing an operetta?!! Wherever I went, the first question that I heard from people familiar and unfamiliar, of various ages and professions was: "How is Shostakovich’s operetta?"

The composer himself commented on his "sensational" appeal to the genre of operetta: "I believe that a real composer should try his hand at all genres. You cannot see anything bad or even dangerous in popular compositions. Mozart and Beethoven also wrote light music, and no one blames them for that." This was not the first time Shostakovich turned to the genre. In the late 30s, he began work on the operetta Twelve Chairs, based on the novel with the same name by Ilf and Petrov, but he never finished it.

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At the rehearsal. Photo by Pavel Rychkov

The plot of the operetta Moscow, Cheryomushki was extremely relevant. At the heart of Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinskyi’s libretto lie the comic ups and downs associated with the mass resettlement of Muscovites from old communal apartments to new residential quarters. The operetta is distinguished with lively action, the clarity and simplicity of its music, and an abundance of different quotations. The witty (and sometimes completely unexpected) quoting of well-known melodies caused, according to the testimonies of the contemporaries, a huge comic effect. Shostakovich employs various musical forms in the operetta: romance, gallop, divertissement, and many dance genres.

"The operetta’s music, created on the melodic basis of (sometimes very familiar) songs from urban musical life, very simple, easy to remember with its wide use of dance rhythms. D. Shostakovich's appeal to everyday tunes is quite natural: it is enough to recall the democratic traditions of the old Russian comic opera, vaudeville, musical comedy, and the classical western operetta. The genuine value of the operetta also lies in the simplicity of the music and the fact that it is combined with bright inventions, grace and the originality of expressive details in the development of used materials, as well as in the field of orchestration, tempo-rhythm, and harmony. The comedic fantasy and a keen sense of theatricality inherent in D. Shostakovich’s work were brilliantly showcased in the parody of rock’n’roll and the ironically cheerful "vision" ballet scene." ("Pravda", March 1, 1959).

The well-known theatre director Ivan Popovski, a student of Pyotr Fomenko, is working on the production at the Bolshoi. A master of synthetic theatre, combining words, music and painting, the author of smart, graceful, and aesthetic performances, he is known as a director with impeccable taste and a keen sense of theatrical space. Ivan Popovski constantly collaborates with the Pyotr Fomenko Workshop Theatre, and the Theatre of Music and Poetry under the direction of Elena Kamburova. The director has also worked in opera theatre several times: he staged Eugene Onegin at Opéra de Lille, The Tsar's Bride, Rigoletto, Carmen and Boris Godunov at the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre.
He made his debut at the Bolshoi in 2005 with a production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace.

The stage space of Cheryomushki is created by Sergei Tchoban, one of the most demanded architects in Russia and Germany, author of many large projects (for example, the Federation Tower in Moscow and Nevskaya Ratusha in St. Petersburg), founder of the architectural bureau SPEECH (as well as the architectural magazine of the same name). For Sergei Tchoban, this is his second performance at the Bolshoi Theatre – in 2019 he worked on the stage design of the performance Telephone. Medium, which also premiered on the Bolshoi Theatre Chamber Stage.

The musical director of the production is Pavel Klinichev, conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre and multiple times the laureate of The Golden Mask National Theatre Award.

The premiere series of performances will take place on March 25-28.