Review: The Nose


What a freakin’ punk rock opera! Not really of course, since Dmitri Shostakovich wrote it in 1928, three years before the electric guitar was even invented and four decades before the garage rock explosion of the 1960s. But! It is noisy to the point of near-constant atonality, and is just as constantly rebellious and acidly satirical. I mean, less than ten minutes into the opera, we hear a three-minute instrumental piece for nothing but battering un-pitched percussion, the first piece of its kind in classical music ever. So! Punk rock!

It should come as no surprise that Shostakovich was 22 when he wrote it, in a Soviet Union that was still ferociously forward-facing and barely starting to become the nation-as-prison that it would be for most of its existence. The story is absurd: A bureaucrat wakes up to find his nose missing, but later discovers that his nose has taken on a life of its own, and acquired a higher position in society than he has. Punk rock, right?!?

Director William Kentridge clearly understands, better than any other opera director I am familiar with, that composers are communicating some kind of meaning or movement with every single bar, sometimes with every single note. Kentridge gained his fame as a visual artist, and indeed his animations are the driving force in the visual designs for The Nose (he shares stage direction credit with Luc De Wit, a Belgian expert in movement).

As the bureaucrat who wakes up to find his nose is missing, gay Tony-Award winner Paulo Szot really works his considerable acting chops. This is not a role for beautiful singing, but for flexibly expressive singing, and Szot shows great mastery in that area.

If what I’ve described above appeals to you, you’d better hurry – the last performance of the season is the matinee this Saturday, October 26.

For tickets, click here.

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