This new musical drama is one of epic proportions, with the concept album confidently putting forward just shy of three hours of original material. Soviet Zion seeks to take audiences into the heart of ‘Siberia’s mysterious Yiddish Autonomous Region’, and, with generous musical accompaniment and a firm grasp on the dramatic potential of the premise, this new work is both weighty in narrative content and richly scored.
With Book co-written by Giles Howe and Roberto Trippini, the piece is set in 1939 and key details are established nice and early: Jews of Russia are promised a heaven on earth; a new land where Socialism rules and where Yiddish is the mother tongue. By following Stalin’s propaganda, they will, full of optimism, cross miles of land to reach a promised ‘Soviet Zion’. And yet, as with all promised things, the reality rarely lives up to the ideal and in this case, we follow two sets of characters who navigate sacrifices and suffering against a backdrop of war and discord.
There’s plenty of drama, to be sure, and the score (orchestrations: Howe with Brian Freeland, lyrics by Howe) entirely embraces the gravity of the situations faced by characters. It’s a piece which seems to lean more towards that very specific calibre of truly epic sung-through musical which demand so much of casts and audiences alike; it does have to be said that with so much musical material on offer, it can be difficult to distinguish between the characteristics of individual songs. That said though, the album does include snippets of dialogue with well-placed news report audio which provide some respite and serve to propel the narrative forward.
What really sells this work, aside from thrillingly full-bodied ensemble arrangements and impressive solo work, is the force with which the piece opens and closes. It’s never quite safe to draw comparisons with existing work, but sometimes such touchstones are valuable in capturing the virtues of new work… The opening arrangement put me in mind of high impact numbers like the grand ensemble pieces in Evita and Les Mis – perhaps more unsurprising are the faint connections with Fiddler on the Roof and Anastasia. With the interim moving along nicely and with engagement secured in ebbs and flows (as it to be expected with a stand alone element like this I should think), this musical drama closes with an equally dramatic finish – even without the visuals, it conjures scenes of a grand mass exodus in a blockbuster feature film – epic and decisive in its parting moments.
For more information and a taste of the score, head over to the Soviet Zion website.