Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Sniff, Sniff - Shostakovich's "The Nose" Doth Smell Kinda Funny
Paulo Szot as Kovalyov and Sergei Skorokhodov as Ivan, photo by Ken Howard

Shostakovich's The Nose is a satirical opera about a St. Petersburg official whose nose disappears from his face to develop a life of its own. According to the British composer Gerard McBurney "The Nose is one of the young Shostakovich's greatest masterpieces, an electrifying tour de force of vocal acrobatics, wild instrumental colours and theatrical absurdity, all shot through with a blistering mixture of laughter and rage... The result, in Shostakovich's ruthlessly irreverent hands, is like an operatic version of Charlie Chaplin or Monty Python... despite its magnificently absurd subject and virtuosic music, The Nose is a perfectly practical work and provides a hugely entertaining evening in the theatre."

At age 22, Shostakovich wrote this eccentric opera, which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1930. The jarring, unruly score was damned then by Soviet authorities, and the work not performed again in Russia until 1974. I think the Russians had a point. The lady who sits behind me in the Niagara Square Cineplex Theatre emphatically intones, "I don't like this." Her husband echoes her negative view, referring to the opera's atonal characteristics and citing its dissonance. And at the conclusion, I readily agree, wondering just what The Metropolitan audience is applauding and in many cases, standing to applaud.

Interview with William Kentridge on THE NOSE

William Kentridge's production of THE NOSE

South African artist William Kentridge , directs the Met's production of Shostakovich's early opera based on a Gogol short story. Kentridge's influence is ubiquitous from set design to videos that populate the staging. In fact, the staging is far more compelling for me than the harsh music, but it gets much too busy, totally dominating the singers.

Plot Summary
Kovalyov is shaved by his barber, Ivan Yakovlevich who next morning finds a nose in his bread. His wife, thinking he has cut off a customer's nose, tells him to get rid of it so he throws it into the Neva River. Watched by a police officer, he is led away for questioning. Kovalyov wakes, and sets off to find his nose which (now the size of a human being) prays in the Kazan Cathedral, but has acquired a higher rank, and therefore refuses to deal with him. He tries to place a newspaper ad, but is refused on the grounds of reputation. Police are at the railway station to prevent the nose from escaping. The nose tries to stop the train, and is captured, then beaten into its normal size, wrapped and returned to Kovalyov who is unable to reattach it. He suspects he is under a spell by Madame Podtochina, because he would not marry her daughter. He asks her to undo the spell, but she misinterprets his letter as a proposal to her daughter. Kovalyov wakes up, nose reattached, and dances in joy. Yakovlevich, released from prison, arrives to shave him. Kovalyov greets acquaintances, while people discuss the story.

I do not envy the task of conductor Valery Gergiev who tries to meld the Met orchestra and chorus and large cast of 30 artists singing 80 solo roles. The talent of baritone Paulo Szot in his Met debut as Kovalyov seems wasted in this piece that lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission. Tenor Andrei Popov as the Police Inspector appropriately employs a humorous nasal force in his singing. And yes, we are all getting much too cute along with Kentridge whose sets are filled with newsprint of myriad shapes to depict the power of propaganda along with action confined to tiny compartments which, like the music, shouts out "metaphor!" to the bludgeoned audience. Animated images depict the nose in human guises, my favourite, riding a horse which becomes a statue, no doubt of some famous warrior.

Unlike the previous opera, Onegin, because there is no intermission, there are no profiles or interviews

"The Nose" runs through March 25 at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center; (212) 362-6000,

Opera News had this to say about The Nose.

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