Shostakovich's The Nose was a very recent discovery and via this live in HD Met production too. The opera itself was very interesting, with a very clever and imaginative score to the extent that you cannot believe that Shostakovich was only in his early 20s when he composed it(though it is for acquired tastes) and the story is lots of fun if extremely absurd. It's not a favourite and probably never will be but I admit that it was very interesting and enjoyable. And this Met production was just excellent, even better than the very emotionally charged and brilliantly performed Eugene Onegin a few weeks ago. The costumes(blending into the collages to great effect, like patterns, those for the policemen especially), sets, light and shadow lighting, animated/silhouette/stop motion images and the collage of slogans and news-prints are very striking and fit the satirical nature of the story beautifully(like the nose ascending the stairs and falling down them more than once). What was especially clever was how the scene changes- most of the time in form of cubicles- revolved from and into the collages and seamlessly, paced much better and more swiftly than Eugene Onegin.
The orchestra perform with enormous energy and a great wall of sound, for such a complex and often loud score they never showed signs of tiring. They also excel in the different sounds they bring out, like the eerie hisses from the wind and strings in the re-attaching of the nose attempts and the rubbing, whistles and some squeaking. Pavel Smelkov conducts with great energy and style, taking care to bring Shostakovich's music to life while not taxing the performers too much. The staging matches well with the music and is constantly animated(how it continues an action via shadow projections is particularly intriguing), the performance is just over 2 hours long without an intermission(though with a couple of moments for re-tuning of instruments) and just flies by. And there are some really impressive performances, especially from Paulo Szot who is outstanding, a vivid actor with such a beautifully burnished sound to his voice. His Act 2 monologue is so moving.
Andrey Popov still makes the truly punishing tessitura of his role of the Police Inspector have a ringing quality, a role that is like Shostakovich's answer to the colouratura tenors heard in Donizetti. In fact a fair few of the roles in The Nose have moments where the vocal line has notes beyond what the voice part in question is perhaps more comfortable singing in). Alexander Lewis doesn't have a huge amount to do, but sings securely and is suitably mocking. Vladimir Ognovenko brings authority and sonorous tone to the barber, Ying Fang is just radiant in every way and Sergei Skorokhodov sings the balalaika cavatina every bit as beautifully. Claudia White was a little too shrill as the barber's wife- to the point of screaming- and dramatically she overdoes it, even for a character who is meant to be hysterical at this point, she most likely was meant to be like that but it's a matter of personal taste really.
On top of that, the chorus turn in some exuberant singing and very involved acting, complete with a few moments with ritual-like movements that synchronised effectively with the music. The satirical dialogue does raise a number of chuckles as well. So all in all, it was a very unique experience and a hugely entertaining one at that as well. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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