The Nose


Dmitrji Šostakovič, The Nose

London, Royal Opera House, 9 November 2016


(live streaming)

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Three geniuses meet – two from Russia and one from Australia

Ninety years separate Gogol’s novel Hoc (The Nose, 1836) from the eponymous Shostakovich opera, and another ninety from the the Royal Opera House production in which The Nose is staged for the first time – and in English. A grotesque, surreal, dystopian, farcical nightmare. There are many definitions that fit the revolutionary work of the twenty year old brilliant Russian composer which Barrie Kosky revives in the idiomatic translation by David Pountney. No other operatic performance in recent years has received such rave reviews (1). One for all, the one from Bachtrack whose reviewer has wittily complied with the spirit of the Australian director.

Not long past from Saul‘s success in Glyndebourne, Kosky’s start’s from Shostakovich’s music and his staging is an incoherent cabaret full of irresistibly comic skits and hilarious danced interludes – choreography by Otto Pichler. The director and costume designer Buki Shiff had to solve the nose problem first and foremost: in Kovalev the nose looks missing because all the others characters flaunt a generous prosthesis! There are noses everywhere in this vibrant phantasmagoria: noses kneeling in prayer, noses strolling in the background, noses that emerge from the curtain, remote controlled noses that trot on the scene, noses engaged in a tap number as “dancers” in a row …

The set design is limited to a round platform, a kind of large table with tablecloth that serves as Kovalev’s bed chamber, and a few other props. Everything is focused on the actors/singers, the magnificent costumes, the faces make-up. On stage we see alluring bearded “girls”, mustachioed policemen, women dressed like matryoshka dolls and other characters straight out of a cartoon or a slapstick comedy. Gogol’s bureaucratic satire here becomes a surreal visual game that keeps pace with the anarchist and modernist Russian composer’s music – before being put on line by Stalin.

The overactive score is masterfully rendered by Ingo Metzmacher. Alongside the countless comic effects provided by Shostakovich and virtuoso instrumental solos (such as the surprising interlude for percussion), he knows to highlight the rare moments of lyricism, as well as keep the more than seventy characters well on stage. Of all these, let’s mention Martin Winkler’s clown face and the inexhaustible vitality, a real tour de force in which body, voice and facial expression are all one in the definition of councilor Kovalev’s character. The glorious bass John Tomlinson ironically covers the three roles entrusted to him and the tenor Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke brings all its humor into Ivan’s character, charlatan and sluggish servant, but with sounding stage entrances.

The last performance was broadcast live by Opera Platform and will still be available for a few months. Do not miss the opportunity to watch one of the best shows of the year.

(1) «A terrifically good nose job», «Jaw dropping», «Another triumph for opera director Barrie Kosky», «Virtuosic staging», «An exuberant, riotous show»…


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