February 3, 2023

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Dmitri Shostakovich: The Nose, Op. 15 (1927-28) [by Lewis Saul]

The Nose, Op. 15 (1927-28)
Royal Opera House
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Ingo Meszmacher, dir.

The 22-year-old wrote his first opera (although he has begun others, the only other to have satisfactorily completed is Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk [see my post]) just a decade after the revolution.

Based on the short story of the same name by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852), this brief window of relative artistic freedom in the pre-Stalinist Soviet Union allowed Shostakovich to create such a satirical and grotesque parody of bureaucracy.

The Gogol (read here) begins:

“In a certain Russian ministerial department –

But it might be better if I don’t mention which department it was. In all of Russia there are no more sensitive individuals than government officials. Every one of them thinks that if he gets angry in any way, the whole civil service class is being insulted in his person.”

Gerard McBurney: “The Nose is one of the greatest masterpieces of the young Shostakovich, an electrifying tour de force of vocal acrobatics, wild instrumental color and theatrical absurdity, all laced with a seared mixture of laughter and anger… the result, in Shostakovich’s ruthlessly disrespectful hands, is.” like an operatic version of Charlie Chaplin or Monty Python… Despite its superbly absurd subject matter and virtuoso music, The Nose is a thoroughly practical work and makes for a most entertaining evening of theatre.”

Woody Allen borrowed the material for an even sillier version of it all with Sleeper (1973).

This amazing production is in English with subtitles.

The opera begins at 0:09:23: