Friday, October 11, 2013

The Nose

Metropolitan Opera Live in HD Broadcast: The Nose 

Broadcast Nose hdl 1013
William Kentridge's production of The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera 
© Beth Bergman 2013
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The Nose

Music by Dmitri Shostakovich
Libretto by the composer, with Yevgeny Zamyatin, Georgi Ionin and Alexander Preis, based on the story by Nikolai Gogol
Kovalyov     baritone, PAULO SZOT
Praskovya Osipovna/Pretzel Vendor
     soprano, CLAUDIA WAITE
Police Inspector     tenor, ANDREY POPOV 
Ivan, Kovalyov's Servant
The Nose     tenor, ALEXANDER LEWIS
Newspaper Clerk
    bass-baritone, JAMES COURTNEY
Traveler     actor, STASS KLASSEN
Escorting Lady      actor, TATYANA ZBIROVSKAYA
Escorting Gentleman     actor, VADIM KROL
Mother     soprano, MARIA GAVRILOVA
Matron     mezzo,THEODORA HANSLOWE
Doctor/Cabby     bass, GENNADY BEZZUBENKOV
Yaryzhkin     tenor, ADAM KLEIN
Mme. Podtochina     mezzo, BARBARA DEVER
Mme. Podtochina's Daughter     soprano, YING FANG
Respectable Lady     mezzo, KATHRYN DAY
Female Voice     soprano, ANNE NONNEMACHER
Ensemble     basses BRIAN KONTES, 
Conducted by PAVEL SMELKOV
Production: William Kentridge
Stage directors: William Kentridge,
    Luc De Wit
Set designers: William Kentridge, 
Sabine Theunissen
Costume designer: Greta Goiris
Lighting designer: Urs Schönebaum
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo

Musical preparation: Carol Isaac, 
     Irina Soboleva, Natalia Katyukova, 
     Vlad Iftinca, Matthew Aucoin
Assistant stage directors: Eric Einhorn, 
Sarah Ina Meyers
Prompter: Carol Isaac

Production a gift of Frederick Iseman

Additional funding from 
     The Richard J. Massey Foundation 
     for the Arts and Sciences, and the 
     National Endowment for the Arts

A coproduction of the Metropolitan Opera, 
     the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, 
     and the Opéra National de Lyon

Directed for Live Cinema by Gary Halvorson
HD host: Patricia Racette

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–75) composed his satirical opera The Nose, based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, between 1927 and 1928. The opera was first heard in a concert performance in 1929 and received its stage premiere in 1930, at Leningrad's Maly Opera Theatre (now known by its original name, the Mikhaylovsky Theatre). The opera's unconventional form made it unpopular with the Soviet authorities, and The Nose remained unperformed in the Soviet Union until 1974, when it was revived by the Moscow Chamber Opera Theatre, conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. The Met first presented The Nose in 2010, in a widely praised staging directed and codesigned by William Kentridge. Valery Gergiev conducted the Met premiere, which starred Paulo Szot as Kovalyov.


The action takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the mid-nineteenth century.

PRELUDE. After the overture, Major Kovalyov is seen getting a shave from the barber Ivan Yakovlevich.

ACT I. In his apartment behind the barbershop, Ivan Yakovlevich wakes to the smell of bread being baked by his wife, Praskovya. He asks for bread instead of his usual morning coffee; but as he cuts into the loaf, he finds a nose baked into the bread. His wife berates him for shaving his customers so carelessly that he cut the nose off one of them. She demands that it — and Ivan Yakovlevich himself — leave the house at once. The barber cannot imagine where the nose came from.

Hurrying along an embankment, Ivan Yakovlevich drops the nose, wrapped in paper, but is noticed by a Police Inspector, who tells him he dropped something and makes him pick it up. Further attempts to get rid of the parcel are futile, as Ivan Yakovlevich keeps running into people of his acquaintance who wonder at his odd behavior. Then the Police Inspector questions him suspiciously about his presence by the river.

Major Kovalyov wakes up in his bedroom, looks in a mirror and realizes he has lost his nose. Upset, he hurries off to find the Police Commissioner.

In Kazan Cathedral, Kovalyov joins other worshippers, covering his noseless face with a handkerchief. To his surprise, he sees his nose in the uniform of a State Councilor and tries to broach the subject of getting it back. The Nose, however, takes on airs in its new identity and says there can be no relationship between the two of them. When Kovalyov's attention is distracted momentarily by a woman entering the cathedral, the Nose makes its exit.

ACT II. Kovalyov, sitting in a cab, calls out to the Doorman that he wants to see the Police Commissioner — who has just left. So he tells the driver to take him to the newspaper office.

Kovalyov makes his way into the newspaper office and has to compete for the attention of a Clerk, who is taking a classified ad from a talkative Footman. Kovalyov starts to explain that he has lost his nose but doesn't want his name used, to avoid embarrassment. To make matters worse, the Nose is now going about town presenting itself as a State Councilor. The office staff takes this as a great joke. Kovalyov grows upset as he describes how the loss of his nose will interfere with his courtship of a certain young lady. The Clerk decides to refuse the ad, because it might turn out to be scandalous or libelous. To prove he is telling the truth, Kovalyov removes the handkerchief from his face; when the Clerk still demurs and jokingly offers him snuff, which of course he cannot sniff without a nose, Kovalyov angrily runs out, leaving the staff to read with amusement through a fresh batch of classified ads.

In Kovalyov's apartment, his servant, Ivan, is singing about his girlfriend, to his own balalaika accompaniment, when Kovalyov enters, still upset, and carries on about the many possible bad consequences of being without a nose.

ACT III. At a coach station on the outskirts of the city, the Police Inspector is assigning some Policemen to ambush a suspect. As they wait, they begin a song, but they quiet down when various citizens start to arrive, preparing to board the stagecoach. A Woman Street Vendor attracts the Policemen's lecherous attention as the departing passengers exchange remarks. As the coach starts to leave, the Nose rushes in to catch it, frightening the horse and causing the Coachman to fire his gun. Panic ensues as the Nose starts to flee but stumbles over the Police Inspector, who alerts his squad to seize the culprit. The Policemen beat up the Nose, with help from the crowd, reducing it to its original size. The Police Inspector wraps it in paper and takes it away.

The Police Inspector calls at Kovalyov's apartment to inform him that his nose has been found, adding that the barber Ivan Yakovlevich is being held as an accomplice. After returning the nose to Kovalyov, the Inspector hints that he could use money for his children's education, so Kovalyov pays him a reward. After the Inspector has left, Kovalyov greets his nose with delight but discovers it will not stick to his face, so he sends his servant to fetch a Doctor. A cursory look convinces the Doctor that it would be better not to try to attach the nose: Kovalyov should keep it, unless he should get a good offer to sell it. After the Doctor takes his leave, Kovalyov's friend Yaryzhkin next appears, but his suggestions are no help either. Kovalyov speculates that the widow Podtochina, who wants him to marry her Daughter, must have set in motion the events that cost him his nose. He starts to write her a letter ...

... and the scene fades to show her Daughter, telling her own fortune with playing cards. Just as she predicts a marriage proposal from Kovalyov, the servant arrives with his letter. As the Daughter reads it, she sees it is no proposal but an accusation of witchcraft and a threat of legal action.

The scene returns to Kovalyov and Yaryzhkin, reading the widow's reply, in which she denies any harmful intentions toward him and, on the contrary, suggests he should be satisfied with her Daughter's hand. Kovalyov believes she must be innocent after all.

A group of Gentlemen comment on the newspaper report that Kovalyov's nose has taken leave of his face and is walking about on its own. They see a man approaching who they think is Kovalyov, but it turns out to be someone else. A new arrival on the scene informs them that the Nose is in Junker's store.

Outside the store, bleachers have been set up, and bystanders are buying tickets, jostling to catch a glimpse of the Nose inside the store, until another newcomer says the Nose is walking in the Summer Garden. The crowd excitedly leaves to go there.

Though rumors are flying, the Nose doesn't appear in the Summer Garden either, and the Police have to spray the crowd with water to disperse it.

At Kovalyov's apartment, he dances with joy: his nose is back on his face at last. The barber Ivan Yakovlevich arrives to shave him, just as in the first scene.

Kovalyov strolls along the Nevsky Prospect, greeting acquaintances, until he encounters the widow Podtochina and her Daughter. He greets the older lady effusively, telling her a pointless joke, but when she invites him to dinner the next day — adding that a proposal to her Daughter would not be amiss — he politely takes his leave, safeguarding his bachelor freedom.

EPILOGUE. A chorus of citizens skeptically reviews the story of the Nose, finding it full of improbabilities. But life is peppered with absurdities, after all, and the public is gullible. If it makes a good story, what's the harm? Kovalyov, back in form, flirts with a girl selling false shirt-fronts and walks off, smiling with self-satisfaction.


St. Petersburg-born Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) was a musical prodigy who began piano and composition studies at the Petrograd Conservatory in 1919, when he was thirteen years old. In 1926, just three years after his conservatory graduation, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 was given its successful first performance, in Leningrad, conducted by Nicolai Malko (1883-1961), then leader of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. The Nose, based on a comic story by Nicolai Gogol (1809-52), was Shostakovich's first completed opera; it was finished in the summer of 1928, shortly before the composer's twenty-second birthday. A suite of selections from The Nose was performed in Moscow that autumn, with Malko conducting. The Nose reached the stage on January 18, 1930, when it was given its world premiere at the Maly Opera Theater in Leningrad, conducted by Samuil Samosud, the Georgian maestro who was the future music director of the Bolshoi and founder of the Moscow Philharmonic. A hostile critical and cultural climate prevented The Nose from establishing itself in the repertory in the Soviet Union until 1974, when the work was rehabilitated in a Moscow Chamber Opera Theater production supervised by the composer.

The Nose had its U.S. premiere in 1965 at Santa Fe Opera, with Erich Kunzel conducting John Moriarty's English-language production. The opera's first Met performance is scheduled for March 5, 2010, in a new production by William Kentridge. Valery Gergiev conducts.


Brian Morton's Shostakovich: His Life and Music (Haus Publisher's Ltd.) is a respectable general introduction; Laurel E. Fay's Shostakovich: A Life (Oxford) is more generously detailed. Gogol's short story is available in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol (Vintage). For further background, see Laurel E. Fay's "Black Comedy Tonight." 

The Nose recording of choice is Gergiev's 2009 CD release on his Mariinsky label. Also of interest is the 1975 performance led by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Melodiya), who conducted the 1974 Moscow staging that reintroduced The Nose to Soviet audiences. spacer

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