Shostakovich The Nose at the Royal Opera House tonight, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, who is the reason why I want to go. Metzmacher once did a series called "Who's afraid of modern music?" confronting the notion that modern music is somehow "difficult". No ! and not The Nose ! A man wakes up to find his nose has disappeared. He's the kind of guy for whom appearance means status, but the nose has different ideas. It takes on its own life, running around town as a civic official. But even that's not clear – sometimes it's a body in a stretchy white shroud, sometimes it's a piece of droopy rubber, and sometimes it's not visible at all, and only spoken about.The Nose is funny, but it's also farce. The libretto's based on Gogol. Laughs, yes, but no smiles. Sharp teeth and eyes constantly alert for danger. Metzmacher will give the music bite.
Valery Gergiev brought The Nose to London with the Mariinsky Theatre more than ten years ago, in a season of Shostakovich operas and ballets. Those were early days when the Mariinsky was still refered to by its old Soviet name the Kirov, and not funded and supported as well as it is now. The Mariinsky also did The Golden Years,which was heard no less than four times in different forms that same year. José Serebrier's recording was electrifying, the Mariinsky's live performance marred by poor staging. At that same time London also saw productions of The Bright Stream and The Bolt, another of my favourites. With at least three major productions of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in recent years, and the bizarre, unfinished Orango, which Salonen brought to maniac life (read more HERE), we haven't done badly. Besides, there's been so much 20th century Russian music and theatre in London (The Gambler, A Dog's Heart, etc) that The Nose at the Royal Opera House should be a cinch. I'm definitely not an admirer of Barrie Kosky, but hope that this new Nose will be up to scratch.
And back to memories of the Mariinsky Nose, the best of the crop that golden year 2006. The Mariinsky Nose didn't rub away the very important political aspects of the piece, so even though the punch of the Russian text was lost on English speakers, the imagery was clear. It cocked a snoot at bureaucracy and conformity. When Kovalov tried to put an advertisement in the newspaper "lost and found" it's refused on circuitous grounds. Vignettes flew at a hectic pace: the bagel seller who gets raped, the twins, the old dowager announcing her own death to a bunch of twitching, neurotic spinsters : a panorama of crazy life . Nothing's explained: logic means little in this fertile procession of observations. At the end a Prince on a stuffed camel proclaimed everything's sorted, but by then we were in the heart of mayhem, complete with banners of newsprint proclaiming HOC and COH, which were wordplays on the Cyrillic for "nose".
Like the Royal Opera House, the Mariinsky is also a ballet house. Thus the Mariinsky Nose blew the dance sub themes up well. For example, numerous cab drivers whirl about in frantic circles, each with a fascinating passenger within, yet the maelstrom is executed with such precision that it suggested the clockwork order of a society controlled by expectations. When the cab drivers lifted people above their shoulders – the dancers at the fringe of the group didn't touch, but moved in tune with other bodies as if they were all one single organism. The nose was played by a superbly athletic dancer who could do backflips and twist round the singer who sang Kovalov. Effectively, a pas de deux, but the dancer obviously the master. The point, exactly !
It was striking, too, how much the Mariinsky Nose owed to the Russian circus tradition. Of course there were clowns, but the real influence is deeper. Circus works because there's so much happening, so fast, that the illusion is even more spectacular than what's actually happening. Hence the highly coloured costumes, and the almost acrobatic physicality of the performers' movements on stage. Even the massive metal tunnel (vaguely resembling a nose) created a vast new dimension to the set, further blurring the boundaries of linear perspective. At one point an angel vocalised wordlessly from the rafters, while a sinister dark angel flitted out from behind her. Circus extends the limits of what the human body can do – just as the errant nose amply demonstrates. Circus and opera both have the same goal: the creation of illusion.
Watch this space. Friday I'll write up the new Shostakovich Nose.
Original Content: No and Not ! The Nose ! Shostakovich