This Saturday at Grass Valley’s Del Oro Theatre, Sierra Theaters presents Dmitri Shostakovich’s “The Nose” as the second offering of new season of The Met Opera Live in HD.
Imagine a world where one’s nose escapes the prison of one’s face, seeking an independent life on the streets of St. Petersburg. Such is “The Nose,” based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol and masterfully realized by the young Dmitri Shostakovich. One of only two operas completed by the Russian master (the second nearly got him shot), the work is pure 20th century avant-garde, creating a unique theatrical experience rife with sarcastic nose-thumbing at pomposity. Premiering in 1930 only to be reviled by the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians, the work nevertheless prevailed for 16 performances. It marks the beginning of the composer’s nearly life-long difficulties with the crushing Soviet bureaucracy. “The Nose” then vanishes from the Russian stage until 1974 and was not performed in the United States until 2004.
The score is inseparable from the images it supports. Striking in its ability to wed action and sound, “The Nose” has been unjustly neglected and is now, at last, finding its deserved place in the repertoire. Rather than being perceived only as an oddity reflecting the brief flowering of free Soviet art, it can be experienced as high farce, not lacking in the underlying social critique lurking in so much of this composer’s work. Though best appreciated as a symphonic master, opera-goers may appreciate the color and use of form in this work. British composer Gerard McBurney wrote: “The Nose is … an electrifying tour de force of vocal acrobatics, wild instrumental colours and theatrical absurdity, all shot through with a blistering mixture of laughter and rage. The result, in Shostakovich’s ruthlessly irreverent hands, is like an operatic version of Charlie Chaplin or Monty Python despite its magnificently absurd subject and virtuosic music, ‘The Nose’ is a perfectly practical work and provides a hugely entertaining evening in the theatre.”
The current production is a revival of the Met premiere in 2010, featuring a hugely inventive modernist design reflecting the work’s origins in the late 1920s. For those who are afraid of modern opera, relax and enjoy this most entertaining and masterful of works. Try something new! Even if it is in its ’80s …
John Deaderick is a local theater instructor, director, actor, and the author of “Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis,” available at Amazon.com.