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 Performances

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

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):