Opera Scotland

Nose The Nose; Nos

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Dmitry Shostakovich (born St Petersburg, 25 September 1906; died Moscow, 9 August 1975)


The Composer.


Short story (1835) by Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852).



First Performance (concert): Leningrad, 16 June 1929.

First Performance (staged): Leningrad (Maly Theatre), 18 January 1930.

First Performance in UK: BBC Broadcast, 21 October 1972.

First Performance in UK (staged); London (Sadler's Wells Theatre), 4 April 1973.

First Performance in Scotland: N/A.



Scotland has not so far done well by the operas of Shostakovich, few as they are. It seems quite shocking that none of them has been performed here, even at the Edinburgh Festival. The Nose is an outrageously grotesque satire, entirely in line with Gogol's original source. It was produced by a lively young composer at a time when the whole of Europe was in a ferment of modern art production. His second opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, appeared just as the tide was turning, at least in Stalinist Russia, and this great opera was taken off after a few performances, never to be seen again in the composer's lifetime. He revised it in 1962, under the title Katerina Ismailova, and that had a brief success. Since the composer's death, however, it is the original that has become popular. His Moscow-based operetta Cheryomushki was late to reach the west, but has developed in popularity quite quickly.

The Nose was first performed in Britain by the New Opera Company at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1973, and that company mounted a second production, by Anthony Besch and designed by Peter Rice, in 1979. That was a collaboration with English National Opera, and was performed at the London Coliseum. A cinema relay from the New York Met in 2013 may provide the work with the chance of developing some popularity.


Main Characters

Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov, a civil servant (bass-baritone)

Ivan Yakovlevich, a barber (bass)

Police Inspector (tenor)

Ivan, Kovalyov's servant (tenor)

The Nose (tenor)

Yavrishkin, Kovalyov's friend (tenor).

Madame Podtochina (contralto)

Her daughter (soprano).


Plot Summary

Kovalyov is a minor civil servant, obsessed with his status and ambitious for advancement. The barber Yakovlevich is shocked to discover a nose in his breakfast roll, and his wife orders him to get rid of it immediately. Struggling to gain the appropriate degree of solitude in the crowded city, he finds this difficult. At last he succeeds in dropping the nose into the river, but is observed by the Police Inspector and promptly arrested. Kovalyov, on waking, discovers his nose to be missing. Ivan helps him to dress, and he hastens off to report this notable incident. On his way to the police station, he passes through the cathedral, and sees his nose, dressed as a Privy Councillor and deep in prayer. The detached organ considers him to be its social inferior, and refuses to return to him.

The nose has escaped, and Kovalyov tries to place an advertisement asking for its return. The newspaper clerk rejects his application, fearful that it might be a coded conspiratorial message, publication of which could damage the newspaper's standing. Kovalyov is in despair, with all his ambitions for social, professional and marital gain in ruins. The hunt for the nose continues in full cry, with the police watching all exits from the city. It is observed trying to board a stagecoach, and is captured.

The Police Inspector takes the nose to Kovalyov's house, and is given a generous reward. To his horror, Kovalyov finds that the nose will not stick in place. A doctor, in spite of charging a large fee, is unable to find a solution. Kovalyov and his friend Yavrishkin conclude the whole problem has been caused by witchcraft on the part of Madame Podtochina, to prevent Kovalyov's marriage to her daughter. But the two ladies receive his letter with complete incredulity - he must look elsewhere. Mass hysteria now begins to develop in the populace as various sightings of the nose are reported about the city. However when Kovalyov wakes again he finds the nose returned to its proper place. The barber is ordered to be particularly careful in carrying out his duties. Clean shaven and intact, Kovalyov is once more able to take his place in society.

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