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A Nose for the absurd

03 November, 2016 — By Sebastian Taylor

The ROH staging of Shostakovitch’s opera of a man who loses his nose. Photo: Bill Cooper

ABSURDIST opera scales new peaks in the Royal Opera House’s uproarious, side-splitting staging of Shostakovich’s The Nose.

It’s based on Gogol’s wonderful 1836 short story of the same name about petty bureaucrat Kovalov who wakes one morning to find his nose is missing.

While the bureaucrat searches high and low in St Petersburg for his lost protuberance, the nose itself takes on a life of its own, wandering up and down the Nevsky Prospect, mixing in high society.

The new ROH production of The Nose takes its cue as much from the Gogol story as from Shostakovich’s iconoclastic score written in 1928 when he was only 21. That was the time just before Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan clamped down on the ferment of post-revolutionary creativity.

Director Barrie Kosky’s staging makes the most of the huge cast, 78 sung and nine spoken roles, throwing in 11 huge tap-dancing noses for good measure.

Splendid tableaux develop one after the other in response to Shostakovich’s experimental work, influenced as much by the cinema, music hall and circus of the time as by Stravinsky and Berg.

Austrian bass-baritone Martin Winkler keeps up the momentum as Kovalov throughout the long 90-minute performance without an interval.

British bass John Tomlinson is in fine form taking on three parts – barber, newspaper clerk and doctor. Conductor Ingo Metzmacher is quite brilliant in delivering Shostakovich’s cacophonic score.

• The Nose is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on November 4 and 9. 020 7304 4000,

• The Opera Platform website is streaming the November 9 performance, making it available for one month on catch-up. And BBC Radio 3 is broadcasting the piece as its New Year’s Eve opera on December 31 at 6.30pm


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