Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Paulo Szot as Kovalyov [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
12 Mar 2010

The Nose, New York

When the orchestra re-tuned itself between the intermissionless acts of the Met premiere of The Nose last week, many in the audience were uncertain whether they were hearing practice or prelude.

Dmitri Shostakovich: The Nose

Kovalyov: Paulo Szot; Police Inspector: Andrei Popov; The Nose: Gordon Gietz; Ivan Yakovlevich: Vladimir Ognovenko; Ivan: Sergei Skorokhodov; Matron: Theodora Hanslowe; Praskovia and Pretzel Vendor: Claudia Waite; Doctor: Gennady Bezzubenkov; Yaryzhkin: Adam Klein; Mme. Podtochina: Barbara Dever; Her daughter: Erin Morley; Dandys: Philip Cokorinos and Michael Myers. Production by William Kentridge. Chorus and orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera conducted by Valery Gergiev. Performance of March 5.

Above: Paulo Szot as Kovalyov

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

Should they talk or should they shush? Was it time to recharge the cell phone? Would that just sound like more of Shostakovich’s raucous, blurting score?

True, no one was singing at that moment but people hardly do sing in this opera, and the leading character — Kovalyov, a faceless bureaucrat who has just awakened to discover that he is noseless as well — performs much of his role in falsetto or in oaths and exclamations and excited jabber. Paulo Szot, who’s been singing Ezio Pinza’s role in South Pacific next door to great acclaim (with a microphone) might not be impressive as Don Giovanni in so huge a house as the Met, but he’s splendid in what is largely an acting part and in a staging that stints nothing on the acrobatic shenanigans it demands of all the performers. The actual title role — Kovalyov’s nose, portrayed by Gordon Gietz — runs about committing antics, getting into fights, picking up strange women, but hardly sings at all except when impersonating an officer.

When the opera premiered in 1930, Shostakovich had the happy advantage of being certain everyone in his audience — and every literate Russian — would know Gogol’s classic short story by heart, and therefore be able to follow the surreal twists and turns of a plot that echoed Gogol’s in detail. (Those planning to attend might want to read the story, too — it’s easy to find on the Internet.) Much of the opening night audience appeared to be Russian, but those who were not were often uncertain whether director/designer William Kentridge was making fun of them or just being silly. Madly inventive as his creations are, Kentridge was following Gogol (and Shostakovich) pretty closely in the storyline, though his sets seemed more inspired by the “Constructivist” epoch of early Soviet art during which Shostakovich wrote the opera.

You may or may not care for Shostakovich’s anti-lyrical — indeed, anti-operatic — score, which lacks the yearning, emotional center that endears his Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, composed four years later, to audiences around the world. In any case, here we have an appropriate production for this strange, unoperatic opera. This isn’t the only way to present it, but it’s a way that takes the work seriously and deals with it in terms of contemporary stagecraft. The contrast to, say, the awkward, undramatic production of Verdi’s Attila that premiered at the Met a week earlier was striking: Though often handsome, nothing about that staging suited the opera being performed or helped make sense of it to a public who did not know it. The Met, it seems, will only suit the production to the work if that work is modern and alien to grand opera tradition.

NOSE_Bezzubenkov_and_Szot_1706.pngPaulo Szot as Kovalyov and Gennady Bezzubenkov as the Doctor

The set of The Nose is a wall of newsprint and graffiti, crisscrossed by bridges and inset with rooms, houses, offices, railway stations. The newsprint with its excitable but meaningless headlines seems to emphasize that the events of the opera are at once the very latest news and as insignificant as the filler of so much popular journalism. A man’s nose has run off — or been sliced off by a drunken barber (Vladimir Ognovenko, growling superbly) — and the hapless legal owner has pursued the runaway appendage to church and been snubbed in his polite request that it return to its place. The nose has not even admitted to working in the same bureaucratic department! And now our hero hardly dares approach the haughty lady whose daughter he was hoping to marry because — well, it’s plain as the nose on your face — he really can’t right now, can he? The authorities are unsympathetic and the newspapers will not print this story, even as a paid advertisement — he might be faking it, after all — and when the police do apprehend the runaway schnoz (attempting to leave town with a passport to Riga), poor Kovalyov has to bribe them in order to get it back. And then, at first, it won’t stay on!

Gogol’s depiction of the dullness and egocentricity of everyone in this world when faced with impossible events is precise and funny — and a forerunner of such writers as Kafka, Borges, Calvino and Barthelme. Shostakovich has set the tale with fiendish glee, in percussive explosions and astringent parody of popular song styles. The instruments often seem to sneeze or whine or fart as much as they play music. Pretty “vocalism” is a sure sign of hypocrisy — as in the case of the snobbish mother and daughter, sweetly sung by Barbara Dever and Erin Morley, or the police inspector serenely warbled by Andrei Popov — or of brainlessness, as in the charming serenade sung to balalaika by Sergei Skorokhodov as Kovalyov’s uncomprehending valet. Claudia Waite is both the barber’s shrewish wife and a bagel-seller raped by the police (a scene very like the rape of Aksinia in Lady Macbeth), Gennady Bezzubenkov is Kovalyov’s unsympathetic doctor, Adam Klein is Kovalyov’s sympathetic friend. There are twenty minor parts in the passing parade Kovalyov encounters — all too busy with their own problems to notice his — and all of them seemed to be sharing the high old time.

NOSE_Gietz_in_title_role_3175.pngGordon Gietz as the Nose

Yet, well before the end of the evening one tired of the shenanigans of both plot and score. Gogol’s story is short. So is the opera (less than two hours when played, as here, with no intermission), but I can’t say it flew by — it’s draining. One joke, since there is never an explanation for it, hardly sustains an entire evening.

All the singers and actors and dancers merited their applause, but the musical star was Valery Gergiev, who kept the joint jumping from start to finish with an energy that never seemed to wear out. It wore me out, but Gergiev could clearly have played a few Shostakovich symphonies as encores.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):