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Shostakovich's Orango restored to life in London

(March 2013)

Music from Dmitri Shostakovich’s unfinished political satire Orango receives its UK premiere staging by Peter Sellars, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The Philharmonia Orchestra offers UK concert audiences their first opportunity to hear music from Dmitri Shostakovich's satirical opera Orango, a circus-style romp demonstrating the composer at the height of his powers.

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 16 May, following his premiere of the restored Prologue in 2011 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and an acclaimed recording by the same forces for Deutsche Grammophon. The London performance, in Russian with English surtitles, will be staged by Peter Sellars and is coupled with the composer's Symphony No.4.

Originally planned as a three-act opera for the Bolshoi Theatre, Orango was abandoned by Shostakovich after the 32-minute Prologue, perhaps due to the librettists not delivering the remainder of the text, or perhaps because of the increasing political risk of a plot poking fun at many aspects of Soviet society and culture. Orango disappeared for 70 years until a vocal score of the Prologue was rediscovered in a Moscow archive in 2004. Gerard McBurney was invited by the composer’s widow, Irina Shostakovich, to orchestrate the score, matching the instrumentation to that of the contemporary Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

The Orango of the title is the result of cross-breeding between apes and humans. The original three-act scenario took the hybrid creature on successful careers as a First World War solider, a wheeler-dealer in Paris and as an anti-Communist international press baron. He is finally betrayed and sold to a Soviet circus and displayed to the Moscow masses. Rather than Orango being a monster, Shostakovich cunningly paints him in the Prologue as the most human creature on stage, surrounded by a wild circus of depravity.

“…a parodic farrago of cabaret, operetta and military music. Snippets of the composer’s ballet The Bolt could be heard too, but what rang out most strongly was a sense of fearlessness. Hearing the aborted Orango is like getting an uncensored look inside Shostakovich’s musical mind just before, following his denunciation by Stalin in 1936, politics infected every aspect of his career.”

“The score is full of breezy numbers in Shostakovich’s most overtly popular idiom, and its trenchant wit and seriousness of satirical purpose leave you wishing more of it had survived.”
The Guardian

“… in Shostakovich’s tartest, tangiest circus style…”
San Francisco Chronicle

Manchester plays host in March to performances of Cheryomushki, Shostakovich’s musical comedy set in a new 1950s high-rise housing estate on the outskirts of Moscow. The RNCM production, staged by Stefan Janski and conducted by Clark Rundell, employs the ensemble version by Gerard McBurney and the English translation by David Pountney.

Latest publications in the Shostakovich New Collected Works are a full score and reduction of Cello Concerto No.2 and a collection of the composer’s works for voice and orchestral including a number of rarities. For a full list of scores in the edition visit The Shop at

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