Schostakowitsch, The Nose

I saw Schostakowitsch’Nose at the Pokrovsky Chamber Opera tonight.  It had gone missing, you know?

Schostakowitsch wrote this peculiar opera in the 1920s, based on a story by Gogol.  For political reasons it never caught on and the Soviets destroyed most of the manuscripts.  Shortly before Schostakowitsch died, Boris Pokrovsky, the late great artistic director of the Bolshoi, found a surviving copy of the score and, together with conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky and with some input from the composer, produced a version, which has since toured the world and has now landed on the stage of the Chamber Opera which Pokrovsky founded after he was pushed out of the Bolshoi.

The plot concerns a nose which has left the face of a Russian bureaucrat in order to have a life of its own.  It will not even speak to the bureaucrat, since in the meantime it has received a promotion to a much higher rank.  No one else will speak to the bureaucrat either, since they consider it bad taste for someone to leave his home without wearing a nose.  Eventually, though, the bureaucrat does succeed in getting his nose back on his face.

A realistic staging would obviously not be possible.  So Pokrovsky elected to have a staging which allows the cast to act.  There was not much in the way of sets, but the stage directions provided enough detail and meant that a lot was taking place on stage.  If I spoke Russian better, I probably would have gotten more out of this production, but even I could appreciate the humor, which kept the bizarre tale moving at a good pace without ever deteriorating into farce.  Schostakowitsch set the opera to very eclectic music of no particular style, one of the reasons the Soviets did not react so positively to it the first time around in the 1920s, and Pokrovsky’s staging provided the necessary symbiosis.

The cast was adequate, and the Pokrovsky Opera trotted out yet another dour Soviet-looking conductor – this time, Vladimir Argonsky – who kept everything moving along together.


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