Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Dina Rose Rivera as A Pretty Lady and Paulo Szot as Kovalyov [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]
07 Nov 2013

The (Amazing) Nose

Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera, The Nose, based on Gogol’s short story of the same name, was a smash hit for the Metropolitan Opera company in 2010 and once again, this season.

Amazing Nose

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Dina Rose Rivera as A Pretty Lady and Paulo Szot as Kovalyov [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]

 

And no wonder! The three act work, performed in a single two hour sitting, offers its audiences an unflinching, unremitting, intriguing, absurdist panorama of sight and sound.

What is it about? Let me put it this way. Have you ever, in a moment of cultural delirium thought of what Nicolai Gogol and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Nose and Jerry Seinfeld might have in common? If you said, “Nothing,” you’d be absolutely, perfectly right. Proof: D.S. Mirsky, the late Russian literary critic, wrote, “In [The Nose] more than anywhere else Gogol displays his extraordinary magic power of making great comic art out of nothing.” And you know how the Seinfeld show has been touted. Where Gogol and Shostakovich part company with Seinfeld’s “nothingness” is in their sharper, less charitable and tolerant views of human frailties.

Excerpt from Scene 3 (Act I)

So one day a barber discovers the nose of one of his customers — a self centered, unmarried petty official, in a freshly baked roll. The baker’s attempts to dispose of it meet with failure. The nose escapes and creates a highly successful and joyful life for itself. Really and truly, there’s a nose with legs prancing about the stage. Meanwhile, waking to discover his loss, the distraught official, named Kovalyov (please note that his first name is Platon (Plato) attempts to recover his appendage. Of course, you’d go to the police or advertise for information in a newspaper if that happened to you) But no one seems inclined to deal seriously with Kovalyov’s quest. And when he encounters his nose in church, the haughty appendage, having achieved even higher bureaucratic status than his own, refuses to discuss the matter with him. But fear not, there’s a happy ending.

Shostakovitch, who was born in 1906, completed The Nose when he was only 22. An exceptional pianist, he had been admitted to the St Petersburg conservatory at 13, by its director Alexander Glazunov, and was known there for his good spirits, love of language and literature, and an interest in the absurd. Those were the early years of the Russian revolution, marked with new freedom for composers, as for all artists anxious to cut loose from bourgeois values. Shostakovich’s operatic pen ran rampant. In addition to using popular and folk tunes, and writing voice parts for more than seventy roles, he created a virtual non stop orchestral display of dissonance, spikey intervals, bizarre rhythms, and extraordinary percussive interludes that presage the enormously powerful percussive effects found in his later scores. One way to appreciate the composer’s interpretative achievement is to read the Gogol story. Gogol’s satiric voice, his descriptions of the attitudes and thoughts of its many characters, are clearly translated into Shostakovich’s antic music. Nevertheless, instead of the pleasure the young composer might have anticipated from the work, it immediately brought denunciation, the first of many his native land was to heap on him. The opera was considered “formalist” — too western, too modern, too elitist for peasants and workers. A staged performance in 1930, only reinforced official condemnation and The Nose was not performed in the Soviet Union until just month’s before Shostakovich’s death.

Excerpt from Scene 4 (Act I)

But please don’t listen to The Nose for its music. That’s not my advice. It’s Shostakovich’s. He disapproved of presenting the 1929 concert version of The Nose . “The Nose loses all meaning if it is seen just as a musical composition. The music springs only from the action. It is clear to me that a concert performance of The Nose will destroy it.”

William Kentridge, the South African artist, who suggested The Nose for his debut production with the Metropolitan Opera, is a man attuned to the grotesquery and absurdism of story and score - clearly kindred to the writer and composer. As with Shostakovich’s music, one is hard pressed to detail the individual elements or inventive combination of techniques which energized Kentridge’s production. Under Kentridge’s and Luc De Wit’s direction, with sets designed by Kentridge and Sabine Theunissen, the stage was in perpetual motion for two hours. The nose was a black silhouette, a white triangle with human legs. It rode horses, traveled in carriages, went to church. Cubbyhole rooms morphed into huge panoramic scenes. In a brilliant touch, Kentridge stacked narrow minded newspaper people vertically at desks on a center stage panel. Projections, prints, banners, newspapers, old film, sometimes layered one atop another, sometimes giving way to one another, sometimes in English, sometimes in Russian, filled the background of the stage. Projected silhouettes of Anna Pavlova with the large nose as her head, dancing each time Kovalyov tried to reattach the small restored nose to his face, were particularly comical. Among the amusing costumes by Greta Goiris, were the soldiers gray uniforms “armed” with huge red panels at the back, with which they beat the giant nose down to decent facial size, and the “bagel lady’s” hoops, adorned with the names of her wares in Russian and English. My only objection to all that nonstop visual fun was that it difficult to focus much attention on the music. Fortunately, I was able to see the opera twice.

The opera was sung in Russian. The primary role of Kovalyov was taken by Paulo Szot, who also sang the role in the Met’s 2010 production. In addition to his mellifluous baritone, Szot’s comical acting was pitch perfect in what could be an overdone farcical role. Andrey Popov, who sang the police inspector in a punishing tenor tessitura just one degree south of shouting, which Shostakovich thought appropriate for a haughty police person, delivered his lines with clarity and aplomb. Australian Alexander Lewis was properly elegant when required to represent the proboscis as a person with a tenor voice. Vladimir Ognovenko, a bass who has sung commanding roles such as Boris and Mefistofeles, was a splendidly unpleasant barber. And Ying Fang, a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program made a charming debut in the opera’s only extended lyric moments, as a young woman to whom Kovalyov is attracted. Conductor Pavel Smelkov, himself a composer, who had previously conducted the opera at the Met and elsewhere, led a crisp performance.

Orchestral interlude from Act I

One last sentimental note about Shostakovich and The Nose. The opera remained one of the composer’s favorite works. He is said to have judged people by their fondness for it. When it was revived in the Soviet Union nearly fifty years after it’s first and only performance, Shostakovich attended rehearsals and the premiere. There is a poignant You Tube video on the Internet (which dates the rehearsal in 1975) showing not only segments of that performance, but the dour 69 year old composer at the rehearsal eventually singing the words, then smiling and finally moving to the music. At the conclusion he rises to accept thunderous applause. Shostakovich died in August of 1975.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and production information:

Kovalyov:Paolo Szot; Police Inspector:Anfrey Popov; The Nose:Anthony Lewis. Conductor:Pavel Smelkov. Production: William Kentridge. Stage Directors: William Kentridge and Luc De Wit. Set Designers: William Kentridge and Sabine Theuunissen. Costume Designer:Greta Goiris. Video Compositor and Editor: Katherine Meyburgh. Lighting Designer: Urs Schönebaum.

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):