Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shostakovich - The Nose - Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Soloists, Orchestra, and Chorus






Review:                                       p10s10

Where does one start in discussing Shostakovich's The Nose? Funnier than the last quartet, more laden with irony than Babi Yar? Well, it's a start.

Running 102 minutes and based on a story by Gogol, it was little Dmitri's firstDmitri Shostakovich in 1942 opera, written in his 20s, and it shows a fully formed composer. Ivan, a barber, finds a Nose in a roll his wife has just baked for him; 10 minutes later (opera time) Major Kovalev, a civil servant who is one of the barber's regular customers, awakens to find his Nose missing. A search is on all over St. Petersburg, and when Kovalev bumps into his Nose in a cathedral, he learns that the Nose now has a civil service rank higher than his own and it denies belonging to him. But Kovalev is momentarily distracted (he flirts with a young woman) and the Nose escapes. Kovalev tries to put an ad in the newspaper but to no avail. Everyone gets involved and the Nose is eventually caught, but Kovalev can't reattach it to his face. One morning he wakes up--and there it is, where it belongs.

The music is part shocking atonality, part folk lampoon, with many of the pleasures coming from the brilliantly-colored orchestra alone. A slapstick gallop separates two scenes; another interlude is seemingly senseless percussion. Ten policemen sing a folksy chorale in Act 2. Just when you think a vocal melody is about to take wing, a piccolo interrupts it, squealing away like a baby's wailing in church, but funnier. Wind instruments play at the top of their registers; brass wilt and whine. A group of travelers hope they won't be attacked by bandits. I'm not certain it's correct to refer to music as being composed in a stream-of-consciousness manner but this is as close as it gets.

The Nose was premiered in 1930 and immediately withdrawn; it reappeared in Russia 34 years later. Shostakovich was to do this sort of thing even better in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in 1934, but The Nose, even given a certain sameness to its outlandishness in its second half, is spectacular enough.

There are more than 70 solo singing roles, most of them tiny, some of them bizarre--the District Constable (Andrei Popov) is requested merely to scream in the highest possible tenor range for a minute or two. But Kovalev is a great role, and bass-baritone Vladislav Sulimsky manages to be both absurd and touching at the same time: he is vain and arrogant, but he is also in a pickle--what on earth is he supposed to do under the circumstances? If there is such a thing as uproariously funny isolation and paranoia, this is it.

Sergei Semishkur sings the role of the Nose, and he manages well with the clownishly high tessitura. Ivan is correctly puzzling as sung by Alexei Tanovitski. Indeed, the whole cast is marvelous if you're looking for characterization and originality rather than lovely singing--this is theater at its most brazen.

This is a studio recording and my suspicion is that with the type of precision Shostakovich calls for with his weird rhythms and intricate counterpoint, it's a good thing (the Met will perform it this year; let's see if it can be tamed). Valery Gergiev, obviously in his element and with his own orchestra and (spectacular) chorus, gives the work form and pathos while making certain that absurdity and satire reign supreme. This is, by the way, the first release on the Mariinsky label and it's quite an auspicious start. Fabulous fun!--Robert Levine,



flac, scans, libretto


  1. Hello Otto, How have you been? My name is David, I´m from Portugal. First of all i want to congratulate you for your amazing blogs. Thank you :D

    I´ve downloaded this opera from shostakovich but there´s a some kind of mistake that is making this great opera not working... Can you see what´s happening? I can´t extract the files...


  2. Ok. Thank you very much for the tips:-)


  3. Me encanta este blog y te felicito. Pero tengo el mismo problema que David, falta la parte 3 y no puedo abrirlo. Gracias.


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