Dmitri Shostakovich isn’t the first name that springs to mind when the conversation turns to musical comedy. In fact, it might be the last. But one of the Soviet composer’s lighter works, an operetta that premiered in 1959 called “Moscow, Cherry Town,” has been dusted off by Long Beach Opera to remind music lovers that there was more to Shostakovich than somber symphonies and dire string quartets.
Presented at the Center Theater in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday, the production, which can be seen at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Wednesday and Santa Monica’s Barnum Hall on Sunday, makes a better case for the enduring charm of Shostakovich’s score than it does for the freshness of the libretto by Soviet humorists Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinsky. As theater this is mildly enjoyable hackwork, noteworthy mostly as a curious historical footnote.
What raises the level is the festive irony of Shostakovich’s music, with its biting commentary hidden behind a smiling facade. LBO artistic and general director Andreas Mitisek capably conducts a modest-sized orchestra through the varying shades of ebullience, from bright optimism to black comedy to some middle ground where communal laughter takes arms again a sea of despair.