Libretto by Yevgeni Zamyatin, Georgi Ionin, Alexander Preis and the composer, based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol (R)
82 singing/speaking parts which can be doubled by up to 14 solo singers; SATB chorus
1(=picc,afl).1(=corA).1(=Ebcl,bcl).1(=dbn)-1.1(=crt).1(=btrbn).0-perc:tgl/tamb/cast/SD/tom-t/tam-t/rattle/cyms/susp.cyms/BD/gong/whistle/t.bells/glsp/xyl/flex-2hp-2domras(sm,alto)-2balalaikas-pft-strings(12-16/12-16/8-12/8-12/8-12 five-string db)
World stage premiere
Academy of Arts, Leningrad
Nikolai Smolich, director / Small Opera Theatre of the Academy of Arts, Leningrad / Samuil Samosud
A satirical opera in three acts. Libretto by Yevgeni Zamyatin, Georgi Ionin, Aleksandr Preis, and the composer, based on the short story ‘The Nose’ by Nikolai Gogol.
‘The Nose’ is one of the young Shostakovich’s greatest masterpieces, an electrifying tour de force of vocal acrobatics, wild instrumental colours and theatrical absurdity, all shot through with a blistering mixture of laughter and rage. In his first dramatic work the composer immediately showed himself to be a master of musical drama, as well as a born avant-garde experimenter, equally at home with the theatrical modernism of his mentor, the great theatre-director Vsevolod Meyerhold, and the musical modernism of Alban Berg (Berg’s ‘Wozzeck’ had made a tremendous impression on Shostakovich when it was staged in Leningrad).
The plot is based on the one of the most famous stories in Russian literature. A pompous government official, Kovalyov, wakes up one day to find that his nose has taken on a life of its own and gone for a walk around the city of St.Petersburg. In a sequence of scenes that follow one another with cinematic swiftness, we follow Kovalyov’s increasingly ridiculous attempts to chase after his nose, recapture it and stick it back on his face. On the way we encounter singing policemen, a drunken barber, an early 19th century newspaper office, a cathedral choir and the Persian Ambassador. The result, in Shostakovich’s ruthlessly irreverent hands, is like an operatic version of Charlie Chaplin or Monty Python.
Although ‘The Nose’ has been revived with enormous success from time to time, its performances have never been as frequent as this brilliant work deserves. This is a pity, for despite its magnificently absurd subject and virtuosic music, ‘The Nose’ is a perfectly practical work and provides a hugely entertaining evening in the theatre.
Note by Gerard McBurney.