Opera review: Melbourne, Cheremushki, Arts Centre Melbourne

An aggressively Melbourne (tote bag included) version of the Russian original opera.

Directed by Constantine Costi and conducted by Simon Bruckard, Melbourne, Cheremushki was the second work in VO Emerges, a new program aimed at giving performers, technicians and musicians with less than 10 years of experience an opportunity to work with Victorian Opera.

It reimagined Dmitri Shostakovich’s Moscow, Cheryomushki for 2020s Melbourne, finding remarkable parallels between the operetta’s original setting and modern day Melbourne. 

With wit and eccentric humour, the original operetta offered a commentary on living conditions in 1950s Moscow. Yet in translation to a contemporary scene, Cheremushki has lost the dynamic movement of the original and shifted the clever parody to one-note juvenile humour.

Complemented by thoughtful costume design from Sabina Myers – including the use of tote bags – references to Melbourne institutions were initially charming. But the unrelenting reminders of the setting quickly became tired and tiresome. Crude jokes, though often well executed, also lost their charm as they became too frequent and predictable.

Nicholas Beecher and Alastair Cooper-Golec were committed in their comic portrayals of a deceitful apartment block manager and sleazy real estate agent, yet the characters themselves were one-dimensional. Neither Beecher nor Cooper-Golec were able to demonstrate their range – a shortcoming of a work designed to showcase emerging performers.

Though all singers had excellent moments, mezzo Syrah Torii (Masha) was an obvious standout. Her undeniable presence and clear chemistry with Matan Franco (Sasha) made watching the couple navigate their journey to find their own apartment a delight. Other vocal standouts included soprano Leah Phillips (Lucy), who brought softness to a tough exterior as a young construction worker, and tenor Douglas Kelly (Boris Borya Koretsky) who found subtlety in his character’s determination to find love.

Gerard McBurney’s arrangement of Shostakovich’s score, which was originally written for a full orchestra, was beautifully executed by conductor Simon Bruckard and the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra. The arrangement’s new focus on percussion plus unusual combinations of instruments, including saxophones and a banjo, brought a rich and playful energy.

The ensemble work often felt clunky, with moments when members appeared unfamiliar with both their surroundings and their own movement. Yet their dedication to the work’s style was clear, resulting in an ultimately enjoyable experience.

Read: Theatre review: Wolf Play, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre

Melbourne, Cheremushki marked an exciting new direction for Victorian Opera, and its Emerging Artists program demonstrates a welcome commitment to the future of our arts scene.

Melbourne, Cheremushki
Arts Centre Melbourne
Victorian Opera
Conductor: Simon Bruckard
Director: Constantine Costi
Set Designer: Dann Barber
Costume Designer: Sabina Myers
Lighting Designer: Lisa Mibus
Sound Designer: Sam Moxham
Movement Director: Shannon Burns

Melbourne, Cheremushki was performed at the Arts Centre Melbourne from 22-25 March 2023.

Savannah Indigo is a researcher and copywriter, trained in publishing, dance, literature and law. Passionate about gender issues and promoting equity through tech design, she has researched Indigenous Data Sovereignty for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector and is developing a paper about harassment in the Metaverse. She has written for Brow Books, Books+Publishing magazine, The Journal of Supernatural Literature (Deakin University) and the Science and Technology Law Association, and is a 2022 Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre.