I first saw The Nose in St Petersburg, Russia, back in 2006. It was my first introduction to opera, and it was strange to say the least. Clearly it didn’t put me off, as I’ve seen several operas since, but it was good to revisit this one at the Royal Opera House.
I’m not sure why this opera, based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol, was sung in English rather than Russian, especially considering the Royal Opera House usually puts on original-language productions. Still, this ultimately did not affect my enjoyment.
The absurd tale is the story of Collegiate Assessor Kovalov, who wakes up one morning to find that his nose has vanished from his face. He spends the day frantically chasing it all over St Petersburg, but the nose has decided to masquerade as a government official and no one will believe Kovalov when he insists that it is, in fact, his nose. The whole thing is nightmarish in tone, particularly the scene in which Kovalov tries without success to stick his newly-discovered nose back onto his face again.
Shostakovich’s music is witty, bizarre and experimental, parodying traditional operatic structures; he wrote the opera at the incredibly young age of 21. My favourite part, however, was the visual aspect: one particularly amazing scene involved a line of tap-dancing noses sneezing in unison. We also saw the nose as a tiny remote-controlled version zooming around the stage.
The Nose is an incredibly strange but amazingly unforgettable experience – definitely recommended.