The moment you have to pinch yourself because you have 11 noses doing tap dance on the stage of Royal Opera House…
This was one of the performances I was most looking forward to since I read that the opera was on the programme. Though I had never heard of the piece I was somewhat intrigued by the title – an opera around a body part!
Well, it was certainly an unexpected experience – though, one didn’t really know what to expect anyway! Certainly not an opera very widely spread on repertoires of opera houses world wide this quite surreal piece takes you on an interesting journey.
The story – in a nutshell – is Platon Kuzmitch Kovalov wakes up one morning to find his nose has gone missing, eventually it is being found but it doesn’t want to be re-attached to his face. After a few unsuccessful attempts his face is finally complete again. Base for the opera is Gogol’s very satirical short story “Nos”. Shostakovich wrote this piece straight out of university – his first opera at the age of 21. He was so full of energy and took inspiration from the experimental theatre of the time, namely Vsevolod Meyerhold. Premiered in 1930 it recived scornful critics and didn’t find it’s way back onto Russian stages until 1974.
The opera feels so incredibly modern and contemporary and sweeps you off your seat. The music is very powerful and almost atonal. Sitting in row 3 it almost got to a point where it was too loud! It was just great how you could be indulged into the music and be taken away into this surreal world. The production was just amazing! The costumes were absolutely fascinating – hinting at all the different stereo types that are surrounded Russian culture, such as the bearded women, folkloristic costumes, Russian vodka drinking police and so on. The scenes with the full cast on stage were almost overwhelming – you almost couldn’t take all the characters in in the time you had to look at them.
The ballet dancers deserve a special mention – they were absolutely spectacular! Paired with their amazing costumes – one scene looked like they raided an Ann Summers store – they were an absolute delight to watch. They were taking their characters so lightly and hats off to them for being so daring on stage. The aforementioned tap dance scene was just a treat for the eyes – a couple of perky bottoms peeping underneath the noses – it was so surreal but a welcome little in between sweet.
The singers, lead by Martin Winkler, singing Kovalov, were fascinating as well. The score, no doubt is very challenging, and they did a sublime job in delivering this extraordinary piece of music. I am not going to name the full cast as it is quite a list but they were absolutely outstanding and hats off to them for pulling this off! It was only the second performance of this opera and they were definitely on top of their game – the tonal range of the artist that was required was very impressive, especially the Eunuch role as well the female soloist roles were presented with undoubtedly unusal scores!
The orchestra, under the baton of Ingo Metzmacher, worked their way through the black dots on their sheets tirelessly! A very demanding and rhythmically challenging piece it require the full attention of all musicians for a bit more than 2 hours. Metzmacher’s gestures were very clear and precise which no doubt was a huge help. Of course the orchestra of the ROH is no stranger to more modern scores but they really did a fantastic job!
This was the first ever Student Performance – only registered students were able to purchase tickets for this evening. Dare I say – the atmosphere was one of the best I have ever experienced at the ROH! You could hear a pin drop and the concentration was extraordinary! Having a younger audience for a quite contemporary piece of music did the production a favour. Barrie Kosky definitely pulled out all the stops and tonights audience surely appreciated them. It was so great to see such an interested crowd – most of them donning their glad rags and seemingly impressed by the ROH and the opportunity to sit in a seat for a fraction of the normal price – we are talking about a tenth – and there was an excitement in the air that I haven’t experienced in a while.
So, what is Shostakovich trying to tell us?! Well, interestingly enough, just before the end of the performance a lady appears on stage and is throwing a few thoughts and what seems to be an interpretation into the audience… in my opinion a clever little thing! It definitely is one of those pieces where I was left trying to make sense of it… to really understand it fully you’d probably have to do in depth research into Russian history, though it almost seems that Shostakovich is leaving it up to everyone to make up their own mind. Kosky’s production is giving a few hints and ideas… for myself, I will have to ponder a little longer to really decide what I have taken from this performance and this might well take a few days and another listen to a few excerpts…