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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

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):