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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Opera Review: Pick a Winner

The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul Pelkonen
"This is the story of a man who lost his nose.
It ran away, grew to human size, and eventually came back to him."
Sketch for The Nose by William Kentridge
© 2010 The Metropolitan Opera/William Kentridge
An unlikely idea for an opera, Nikolai Gogol's story is one of the great comic works of Russian literature. Shostakovich set the work when he was 22, and it was quickly banned in Russia for 44 years. The Nose finally arrived at the Met this season, in a brilliant new production by William Kentridge.

On Thursday night, Valery Gergiev led the crack Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in an extraordinary performance of Shostakovich's first opera The Nose. From the strident opening chords (which sound suspiciously like "Ah-choo!") the work lurches forward in a kaleidoscopic style that incorporates atonal music, bone-rattling percussion, jazz and liturgical music. Mr. Gergiev kept the whole show under his expert control. The only problematic scene was in the cathedral, where an offstage chorus managed to drown out the soloists on more than one occasion.


Among all the orchestra clatter and animated dancing beezers, the singing cast still has the opportunity to make its mark. Tony award-winning baritone Paulo Szot hit the rite combination of comic anguish, pomposity, and despair in the role of Major Kovalyov.

Tenor Andrei Popov hit some impressive high notes as the Police Inspector. Bass Vladimir Ognovenko, a familiar figure at the Met if you've ever seen Boris Godunov, gave a fine comic turn as Yakovlevich, the barber whose clumsy hands trigger the Nose's initial vanishing act.

Mr. Kentridge's staging places all the action against a spectacular show curtain, using small rolling sets, film projections, and line-drawn animation to flood the eye with visual information. It's a perfect complement to the spiky music.

Most entertaining are the animations featuring the Nose's adventures as it grows to human size, acquires legs, dresses up as a State Councillor, and leads its owner a merry chase around the city. A memorable image: old film of Shostakovich himself playing the piano, his face obscured by the black bulk of the runaway Nose.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.