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The Nose (Russian: Нос, 'Nos'[a 1]) is a satirical opera composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. The libretto by Shostakovich, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Georgy Ionin, and Alexander Preis is based on the story The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. The plot concerns a St. Petersburg official whose nose leaves his face and develops a life of its own.
The opera, written between 1927 and 1928, uses a montage of different styles, including folk music, popular song and atonality. The apparent chaos is given structure by formal musical devices such as canons and quartets, a device taken from Alban Berg's Wozzeck.
According to the British composer Gerard McBurney writing for Boosey & Hawkes "The Nose is one of the young Shostakovich’s greatest masterpieces, an electrifying tour de force of vocal acrobatics, wild instrumental colours and theatrical absurdity, all shot through with a blistering mixture of laughter and rage... The result, in Shostakovich’s ruthlessly irreverent hands, is like an operatic version of Charlie Chaplin or Monty Python... despite its magnificently absurd subject and virtuosic music, The Nose is a perfectly practical work and provides a hugely entertaining evening in the theatre."
In June 1929, The Nose was given a concert performance, against Shostakovich's own wishes: "The Nose loses all meaning if it is seen just as a musical composition. For the music springs only from the action...It is clear to me that a concert performance of The Nose will destroy it." Indeed, the concert performance caused bewilderment, and was ferociously attacked by the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM). Its stage premiere, conducted by Samuil Samosud, took place at the Maly Operny Theatre in Leningrad on 18 January 1930. It opened to generally poor reviews and widespread incomprehension amongst musicians. Even so, the conductor Nikolai Malko, who had taught Shostakovich at the Leningrad Conservatory and conducted the premiere of his pupil's First Symphony, reckoned the opera a "tremendous success"; indeed it was given 16 performances with two alternating casts over six months.
The opera was not performed again in the Soviet Union until 1974, when it was revived by Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Boris Pokrovsky. Interviewed for a 2008 documentary, Rozhdestvensky related that he had found an old copy of The Nose in the Bolshoi Theatre in 1974, supposedly the last copy in the Soviet Union. The composer attended the rehearsal and premiere in 1974.
The opera was shown at Opera Boston in early 2009, and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in March 2010. Audio recordings of Metropolitan Opera performances are usually made available over the Internet to subscribers on the Met Player.
The morning after shaving Kovalyov, one of his regular customers, a barber finds a nose in his bread. He tries to get rid of it by throwing it in the Neva River, but he is caught by a police officer. Meanwhile Kovalyov wakes and finds his nose missing. He later sees his nose in the Kazan Cathedral, but it has acquired a higher rank than he and refuses to return to his face.
Kovalyov visits the newspaper office to place an advertisement about the loss of his nose, but is refused. He returns to his flat, where his servant sings a love song and Kovalyov is left in despair.
A group of policemen are at a coach station, in order to prevent the nose from escaping. The nose tries to get on the coach at the last minute: the horse is frightened and runs away, while the driver tries to shoot the nose. The nose is caught, beaten and returned to Kovalyov; however, he is unable to reattach it. He suspects that he has been enchanted by a woman called Madame Podtochina, because he would not marry her daughter. He writes to ask her to undo the spell, but she misinterprets the letter as a proposal to her daughter. She convinces him that she is innocent. In the city, crowds gather in search of the nose.
Kovalyov wakes up with his nose reattached. He is shaved by the barber and flirts as he walks along Nevsky Prospekt.