If you ever ask someone to prove if they are a cultured individual, I can put money on the fact they will start talking about either travelling or going to the opera. I have to admit that my personal journey with opera, as a musical genre, did get off to a hit of a shaky start. When I was very young, my family took us all to see an opera showcases hosted at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Due to how young I was at the time, the darkness of the theatre and the majority of songs being in Italian I did find myself falling asleep at various points during the show. This was not a reflection of the talent of the performers (as they were incredible) but instead reflected my experience with opera. I used to think that opera as an art form was very drawn out and boring but it was only after looking into what the term means that my view on the genre completely changed! Cambridge dictionary defined “opera” as “a musical play in which most of the words are sung” which means that there is no straight dialogue in the play but instead everything is sung or accompanied by music. This doesn’t mean that every opera has to be ridiculously classical but instead just a play where all the dialogue is not spoken but instead sung/accompanied by music. This means that the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” would be considered as a rock opera which completely contrasts the classical ideas many people hold about this genre. I personally really enjoy JCS as so to learn that it is an opera changed my thoughts on this art form. Additionally, I attended an event where the WNO aimed to make opera more accessible to young people and one of the key ideas was to adapt classic operas into VR experiences which doesn’t sound like it should work but more defiantly does!
Due to this mixed journey with the art form I was very excited when I was informed about a new musical recording of Soviet Zion by Thornhill Theatre Space (follow them on Instagram if you haven’t already https://instagram.com/thornhilltheatrespace). The first thing I notice about the album was that this was not your typical musical as it contained 30 tracks that when combined covers almost 2 and a half hours! This is because every conversation in the show is accompanied by music (due to it being an opera) and each song blends into one another which does help make it much more consistent for the listeners to follow. This does mean however that if you are going to listen to this musical you kind of have to listen to every track in succession and at just over two hours this is quite difficult to do. Soviet Zion is a musical that is based on a real historic event where Jewish families migrated to the Soviet Union. It follows two fallowed two families as they sought to create a Yiddish-speaking socialist utopia not in the Middle East but instead in Russia which occurred in 1928. Due to the story being based on a real-life historic event the show is very emotional but the creative team behind it has thought about how to bring the story honestly and respectfully. The website for this show (which you can check out yourself at https://www.sovietzion.com) is crammed full of informative and accurate information regarding this migration which makes the show not only entertaining but also educational! In many of my previous reviews, I have talked about the cross-section of entertainment and education is what I enjoy most. I had never heard of this migration before and so the show taught me a lot about this specific point in history which means it did exactly what it needed to!
Generally speaking, the songs within the show are very powerful and dramatic which adds to the experience of listening. There is the inclusion of a narrator who describes what is going on, stage directions etc which really helps the audience to further understand the story. I have found very few musical that includes an actual narrator (with my last being Mascherato which you can read my review of here – https://rhysreviews.com/2020/09/19/mascherato-soundtrack-review/) with the later show they had included a narrator as they had just released an album and not a live show so a narrator was included in the recording so they audience could understand what was going on more. I’m not sure if Soviet Zion wants to remove this part in live shows but it did help for this recording. The song “this doesn’t bode well” is a super tense and exciting song with a plethora of wonderful voices that all work together perfectly. The song explored the idea of being tricked by propaganda/the media of not chasing this perfect life but they realise that in reality, it is nothing like what they were promised. I enjoyed the vocals in the song “we open the door for Elijah” especially the ridiculously deep melody performed by one of the male performers. The singing in this song was incredible but the base part really shone and was performed by a very talented vocalist! The songs in this album are generally more serious and emotionally driven so the joke that appeared in “Finally Here” was a brief relief to the listeners. In this song, one character teaches another character to shout “Ima Fool” (which they do not realise what this says) which is similar to a judo gag I used to perform in youth clubs! This was a nice bit of comic relief that provided a much-needed relief from the intense and serious themes explored throughout the rest of the recording. My favourite number in the show would have to be “In Many Different Lands” which is a big ensemble number that creates an overwhelming sense of unity and togetherness which was great to listen to.
Overall this is a very emotionally powerful plan that is equal parts entertaining and equal parts educational. It could easily be used to bring opera to a more mainstream audience but also gives the perspective of the Jewish community which not many musicals do. I would rate this recording 4.5 stars out of 5!