Melbourne, Cheremushki offers all sorts of pleasant surprises. Firstly, that the composer of grim opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Dmitri Shostakovich, also created the rarely performed satirical operetta Moscow, Cheryomushki, which Victorian Opera has adapted. From the overture’s fairground-tune opening, the score is remarkably and delightfully playful.

The surprises keep coming in this English-language production from the VO Emerges program, which provides experience for young performers, technicians and musicians. From some fine singing to Constantine Costi’s amusing and inventive writing and direction, this Australian premiere is an unexpected treat.

Victorian Opera’s Melbourne, Cheremushki. Photo © Charlie Kinross.

With a libretto by Soviet humourists Mikhail Chervinsky and Vladimir Mass, Shostakovich’s operetta premiered in Moscow in 1959. It follows various people desperately trying to secure apartments at a government housing complex, who are stymied by corrupt bureaucrats.

Melbourne, Cheremushki re-imagines this scenario in modern-day Melbourne. Several young people struggle to find accommodation, a task made even harder by a scheming real-estate agent and a new apartment complex’s dodgy manager. The wannabe renters are at different, often difficult stages in their romantic relationships, while the estate agent has a gold-digger girlfriend.