Musical Comedy by Shostakovich? (December 22, 2004)
Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth (December 2, 2004)
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk on DVD (November 18, 2004)
It is difficult for today's audience to understand the import of a work treated in its time as an "anarchistic grenade" or charged with formalism by Stalin's censors -- The Nose was in effect banned by Soviet authorities, after 16 performances at Leningrad's Maly Theater, where it was premiered on January 30, 1930, before being forgotten for 40 years until its triumphant revival, in 1974, in Moscow. But no one can be unaffected by Nicolai Gogol's short story, from the Petersburg Stories. Under the guise of telling the terrible story of Platon Kovalev, a simple collegiate assessor who has lost his nose and, with it, his virility and place in society, Gogol creates a ferocious satire of the administration and some social behaviors connected with the question of power in the "knout period" of Nicholas I.The 24-year-old Shostakovich created a blockbuster of an operetta, requiring a large cast, and Gergiev apparently brought a small army of performers with him from St. Petersburg for this short series of appearances. If you want to get to know the literary background better, here are a few Gogol tales in English, including The Nose (1835).
Yuri Alexandrov's rich and daunting staging, conceived as a series of circus acts, Zinovy Margolin's sets with giant buildings seen from the sky, Maria Danilova's gigantic and colorful costumes, David Avdysh's burlesque choreography, and Gleb Filshtinsky's acidic lighting all evoke the paintings of Marc Chagall. The Mariinsky's company of singers is stunning in spirit and virtuosity. Today's Mariinsky Theater is in all ways truly in the realm of excellence. While still observing the reduced texture intended by Shostakovich, who incorporated in his orchestra the rare sonorities of the balalaika, the domra (another string instrument), and the flexatone (a sort of musical saw), Valery Gergiev's phalanx of players was an immense brigade on campaign, armed to the teeth. As for the singers, they can do it all: singing, dancing, laughing, crying, and acting. They also have that rare attitude, appearing to enjoy what they are doing and to take pleasure in it.
Philippe Herlin, Pied de nez ! (ConcertoNet.com, November 16)
Jorg von Uthmann, Noses Off: St. Petersburg Visits Paris With Shostakovich Opera (Bloomberg News, November 16)
Caroline Alexander, Chostakovitch mené par le bout du nez (Webthea, November 23)
Washingtonians will have the chance to hear the Mariinsky Theater and Valery Gergiev this February at the Kennedy Center. We get Parsifal and Turandot but unfortunately no Shostakovich. Paris gets all the good stuff!