In “The Nose,” Kovalyov’s search for his missing nose, as orchestrated by a young but clearly fearless Dmitri Shostakovich, is a big noisy affair. Effusions of brass and long interludes of pure percussion mark the score, and the singing is mainly declamatory and boisterous. No attenuated love arias or heartbreak-by-moonlight songs here. What opera ever composed has so much work for the trombones?
The ICON movie theater in St. Louis Park was full on Saturday for the Metropolitan Opera’s live telecast of Shostakovich’s seldom-produced “The Nose,” which premiered there in 2010 and is being revived this season. (The high-definition video will be seen again this Wednesday evening in several Twin Cities theaters. Details here.)
South African artist William Kentridge, who made his Met Opera with this brilliant production, has imagined a frenetic world of creatures made out of typography, of inky figures drawing monstrous cartloads as if all Russia were their burden. Then these figures drag in a new scenic element -- a cramped barber shop, a tilted sleeping room on which Kovalyov tosses and turns in misery on his too-small bed.
Kentridge brings great inventiveness and hurly-burly to bear on the Gogol story. Presented in the black, gray, white and brilliant red color scheme of the Russian Constructivists, it’s a world where a newspaper office becomes a towering front page, out of which explode the pressman, the editors and reporters, each singing from their own grimy, newsprint-strewn window.
At one point, type moves like iron filings on a magnet until cohering into a giant image of Joseph Stalin, evoking the era when Shostakovich was emerging as a composer.
The production design shies away from the usual illusions of depth, opting instead for ladders, trap doors and trompe l’oeil effects in a dizzying, floor-to-ceiling 2D effect, like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in as imagined by El Lissitzky. When an animated nose takes a dive, it splashes into a movie-reel swimming pool. The profusion of these dynamic visual effects throughout the opera is perhaps its biggest attraction. They added to, rather than distracting from, the music and the singers.
The crack Met orchestra was here conducted by Pavel Smelkov, and the terrific costumes are by Greta Goiris.