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Full of Irony

Shostakovich's 'The Nose',


The Nose by Dmitri Shostakovich is performed less often than it should be, even though the forthcoming Metropolitan Opera House joint venture with the Aix-en-Provence Festival may provide a much needed revival outside the Russian Federation. As a matter of fact, after its initial triumph at a small secondary theatre in St Petersburg (by then named Leningrad) on 18 January 1930 and a short revival the following year, the opera had disappeared from the Russian scene until 1974 because of the difficulties Shostakovich had with Stalin and his entourage. It was staged, almost simultaneously in 1964, in Düsseldorf (in German) and in Florence (in Italian), both with considerable success.

But theatre managers considered it a daunting enterprise to produce because it has: a) twelve short scenes in three Acts (the opera lasts less than two hours), all in important and well known St Petersburg locations around 1880 (from the impressive huge Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan to the Summer Garden, from Avenues to artisans' shops); b) a cast requiring at least thirty singers (the concertato in Scene 7 has twenty-one singers on stage) with the ability not only to master difficult vocal skills (melologue, polyphony and very high pitches) but also to act and to dance effectively; c) a score for a small chamber orchestra where on a basic Slavic approach, Shostakovich inserts jazz, atonality, and traditional instruments such as the domra, balalaika, and flexaton.

Finally, the plot; after a Gogol's short novel, it is the surrealist tale of a pompous military officer losing his own nose in the barber's shop -- it gets cut off merely by chance -- and searching desperately for it throughout St Petersburg...

Copyright © 26 February 2011 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy









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