I like twentieth century music and The Nose, which premiered in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in 1930 is very typical of music of its time. It uses a chamber orchestra supplemented by traditional Russian folk instruments (domras and balalaikas).
The work is seldom performed outside Russia and I had no real idea what it was about or what it was like. It is a fairly short opera at just over two hours (no interval). The libretto is based on Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 story about a minor beaurocrat, Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov, who wakes up one morning to discover that his nose is missing. He later finds it living its own life in human size, and distinctly superior in status to himself.
From a South African point of view – well, I suppose an international viewpoint as well or he would not have been selected for the task – this work is fascinating because the renowned visual artist and theatre director, William Kentridge, is the director of this work. The scenery is all by Kentridge, even if the Met’s artistic crew did much of the actual work. Even if one did not know in advance that it was by Kentridge, his style is unmistakeable. The collage of newsprint and images move, revealing recesses which prove to be the barber’s shop and Kovalyov’s bedroom. The nose is a newsprint paper-mache one.
Kovalyov was sung by Paulo Szot and the police inspector by Andrey Popov. The Nose itself was sung by Alexander Lewis. There are no catchy arias that one can hum as one goes home.
This opera is satire, and in 2012, an adaptation of this story depicted Vladimir Putin missing a different part of his anatomy. The conductor of this opera, Valery Gergiev, is a friend of Putin’s. In June 2013 Putin signed anti-homosexual legislation into being, a fact which drew LGBTQ activists to the opening of Eugene Onegin at the Met – and again during Gergiev’s curtain calls. We were not shown this as part of the Live in HD series, but it is of interest anyway, especially to South Africans who are just coming to terms with a president whose appendage is the source of so much notoriety.
The Nose can be seen at Cinema Nouveau from 30 November 2013.