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

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

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):