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The Nose in Paris

Also on Ionarts:

Musical Comedy by Shostakovich? (December 22, 2004)

Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth (December 2, 2004)

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk on DVD (November 18, 2004)
Can we please have more Shostakovich operas mounted here in the United States? Last year, I wrote about the rare production of Shostakovich's musical comedy Moscow, Cheryomushki (Moscow: Cherry Tree Towers) at the Opéra National de Lyon. (This opera was also performed at the Bard Festival earlier that year, but I missed it.) I would be very happy to see DSCH's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, too. Valery Gergiev recently led a Mariinsky Theatre production of Shostakovich's The Nose, from November 14 to 19, for the Opéra national de Paris at the Bastille. Marie-Aude Roux wrote about it (Le drolatique "Nez" de Chostakovitch venu du Théâtre Mariinski, November 17) for Le Monde. Her opening sentence is enough to convince me yet again that I need to move to Paris: "Between Bill Viola's ritualized Tristan at the Opéra Bastille and Bob Wilson's restrained Ring at the Châtelet, we sorely need a little hit of the Mariinsky Theater come from St. Petersburg to bring us out of our Wagnerian neurathenia." We shoould all have such problems. Here's more of what she had to say (my translation):
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.

Shostakovich, The Nose, Mariinsky Theater, Opéra national de Paris, November 2005
Other Reviews:

Philippe Herlin, Pied de nez ! (, 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)
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.
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).

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!


Anonymous said...

"Cheryomushki" is a name of the district in Moscow. The conventional translation of this operetta is "Paradise Moscow"

Charles T. Downey said...

Henry, I am not familiar with "The Nose," but loving "Lady Macbeth" as I do, I am more than willing to give it a chance. I was being facetious about "Parsifal," which is going to be quite an event.

Anonymous, thanks for the info. The translated title here is the one used by the Bard Festival, cited by Alex Ross. It seems to be an attempt to impart the concept of an apartment building complex.

Princess Alpenrose said...

Okay, well it helps to know Russian if the musical style bothers you. Sorry, but it's true.

Shostakovich was a MASTER at setting the Russian language, which has very certain specific linguistic intonation patterns, to music. The rise and fall of the musical line matches the rise and fall of the language's intonation patterns, guys. (IK-3, IK-5, IK-6 anyone?) The way S. sets words to music gives the opera goer and native speaker of the langauge an emotional punch in the stomach unmatched by almost any other composer anytime, anywhere.

I think Shostakovich's the Nose is a genius work, BETTER THAN LADY MACBETH. But perhaps it does not translate well...

Anonymous said...

"Can we please have more Shostakovich operas mounted here in the United States?"

Yes, please!
I am a musical saw player, and I would LOVE to play the saw part in 'The Nose'!
(If you've never heard a musical saw: )