Lost and found: The Nose (ROH, 20 October 2016)
On 25 March an unusually strange event occurred in St. Petersburg.
Ivan Yakovlevitch donned a jacket over his shirt for politeness’ sake, and, seating himself at the table, poured out salt, got a couple of onions ready, took a knife into his hand, assumed an air of importance, and cut the roll open. Then he glanced into the roll’s middle. To his intense surprise he saw something glimmering there. He probed it cautiously with the knife — then poked at it with a finger.
“Quite solid it is!” he said to himself. “What in the world is it likely to be?”
He stuck in his fingers, and pulled out — a nose!
He realized that the nose was none other than that of Collegiate Assessor Kovalev, whom he shaved every Wednesday and Sunday. (The Nose by N.V. Gogol, 1835)
Platon Kuzmitch Kovalov: Martin Winkler
Ivan Iakovlevitch/Clerk/Doctor: John Tomlinson
Ossipovna/Vendor: Rosie Aldridge
District Inspector: Alexander Kravets
Angry Man in the Cathedral: Alexander Lewis
Ivan: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Iaryshkin: Peter Bronder
Old Countess: Susan Bickley
Pelageya Podtotshina: Helene Schneiderman
Podtotshina’s daughter: Ailish Tynan
Ensemble1: see below
Conductor: Ingo Metzmacher | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH | Co-production with Komische Oper Berlin and Opera Australia
Director: Barrie Kosky
For the very first time at ROH (though written between 1927-28), The Nose will be at large (and occasionally caught) in London until 9 November <- and on that day ROH will apparently broadcast it online. If you enjoy surrealist humour do yourself a favour and be one of those who catch it. I for one have never seen anything madder (and I see a lot of nutty stuff “irl”) 😀 My favourite things were the bicycles/tables that stood in for any number of things.
The Gogol fan that I am, I have to report that the libretto, the music and the translation – it’s performed in English (supposedly so we can better follow the madness – a wise choice) – all do perfect justice to the short story. The production, too, is mad as a box of frogs and gets the Russian-ness of it all (though I guess there’s room for even weirder takes than the length to which ROH stretched itself). It’s never taking itself seriously nor is it trying to be clever for cleverness’ sake or to the detriment of humour. It’s modestly aiming at absurdist (and also gets the feel of the period it was written in and the theatrical influences on Shostakovich <- imagination abounded). An excellent achievement, all! I think it’s quite safe to say this is my favourite ROH production so far.
This is the kind of opera that – at least for me – fares better in the house. I tried listening to it at home and I just couldn’t sit through it. I decided to put up with it live because I simply love the short story. I have no regrets! No snoozing to report, lots of laughs and I noticed some interesting musical decisions along the way (strange but welcome noises that wouldn’t normally be heard in
polite company opera, various spoofs of opera cliches – I loved the cathedral scene, where Kovalov meets his nose and tries to engage him in conversation whilst a funeral is going on and people are wailing: sometimes Kovalov conversational music is “seamlessly” picked up and given centre stage by one of the mourners; I guess he too is mourning a loss 😉 ). It is a bit of a tour de force noise-wise, though it’s not constantly (nor stupidly) obnoxious – there are lots (lots!) of moods packed in those 2 hours.
I was afraid of screechiness from Ossipovna (the singer in the recording I heard just about made my ears shrivel with her abrasive top) but Aldridge was a very good choice here and so my ears remain intact, which will come in handy as there’s Baroque to come in a couple of weeks.
Also paramount are singers’ acting skills. Comedy timing in this case – quite low brow comedy – but you do need to carry a flimsy joke for 2 hours. The characters are supposed to be at least partly caricatures2, as there’s a layer of satire, and Winkler as the beleaguered Kovalov and Kravets as the District Inspector were hilarious in my book. Also highly humorous was Kovalov’s servant, who had not so much arias (though he had one… song), but 2 or 3 (very!) long held notes, a clear snipe at traditonal opera excess.
The nose pops out of/is shaved off (?) Kovalov’s face and takes on the identity of a high ranking official with no one the wiser only to at long last be apprehended by the corrupt District Inspector – I guess he can smell deception 😉 – but the story and the music focuses on maudlin Kovalov’s plight as well as indulging in the weirdness of what could be dream sequences or drunken hallucinations (neither Kovalov nor the barber rule out the possibility they could be drunk). No surprise then, that the biggest applause of the night was earned by 11 tap dancing noses. The choreography (drawing from the world of cabaret) supports the music faithfully – which is to say it’s very lively.
Really, though, it’s the kind of thing words (mine, not Gogol’s) on their own can’t do justice. Even pictures aren’t enough; you have to see the whole put together, music, text and dancing noses. Until then, you can check out ROH’s Insights where they are more coherent than I can (or in this case, care to) be:
- Andrew O’Connor, Paul Carey Jones, Alasdair Elliott, Alan Ewing, Hubert Francis, Sion Goronwy, Njabulo Madlala, Charbel Mattar, Samuel Sakker, Michael J. Scott, Nicholas Sharratt, David Shipley, Jeremy White, Simon Wilding, Yuriy Yurchuk ↩
- The other part it’s just acting strangely but in a silly rather than sinister manner. ↩
Posted on October 21, 2016, in ...and then I heard that, 20th century, live performances, royal opera house and tagged dmitry shostakovich, nikolai gogol, the nose. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.