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THE NOSE – Shostakovich’s only comic opera, at BARD SUMMERSCAPE 2004

Mark Primoff

July 28-August 7, 2004

The fifteenth annual Bard Music Festival will focus on Dmitrii Shostakovich and his world during the second annual SummerScape at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson NY. A centerpiece of this year’s SummerScape is The Nose, an early work by Shostakovich and his only comic opera. The Nose, directed by Francesca Zambello and performed by the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein, will receive its east coast professional premiere at SummerScape. There will be a preview on July 28, the premiere on July 30, and additional performances on August 1,6 & 7. All performances will take place in the Sosnoff Theater, itself the centerpiece of Bard’s glorious Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. The set designer for The Nose is internationally renowned architect Rafael Viñoly, and Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili, the costume designer for the Metropolitan Opera’s recent productions of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini and Prokofiev’s The Gamblers, designed the stunning costumes. The Nose, a seldom performed three-act opera based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story, is a timeless satirical send-up of the vanities of societal status and power, particularly endemic in bureaucracies. The opera’s first performance was in Leningrad’s Maliiy Opera Theater on January 18, 1930. While The Nose has been performed in Florence, Rome and Berlin, and at the Santa Fe Opera in this country, the SummerScape presentation is the first professional production on the east coast.

Francesca Zambello is one of the most prolific and sought-after theater and opera directors on the international scene today. Indeed, according to TIME, she’s "opera’s hottest director". Her staging last year of Hector Berlioz’s monumental Les Troyens at the Metropolitan Opera was a critical and audience triumph. Ms. Zambello was born in New York, raised in Europe and educated in the U.S. She is fluent in several languages and has worked with many of the singers in The Nose in Russia and elsewhere. Her productions are seen from Moscow to Paris, from Seattle to Houston, and from New York to Bregenz, Austria, where she staged West Side Story last year on the opera festival’s floating stage. In addition to directing The Nose, she’s making a second SummerScape debut this summer directing Shostakovich’s only musical, Cheryemushki (Cherry Tree Towers), which opens on August 12.

"I am very much looking forward to working in the Sosnoff Theater," says Ms. Zambello. "The Nose requires an atmosphere of intimacy and will be well served by this space. I have done many 20th-century Russian works, and both of the Shostakovich pieces I’ll be doing at Bard this summer have appealed to me for a long time. The themes are, of course, modern – in any great work the themes always feel modern!

"Everyone can relate to the world of The Nose and its inhabitants’ frustrations in confronting a bureaucratic machine. Gogol wrote it more than a hundred years ago, but it feels the same as anyone of us trying to get through to a ‘real’ person on a phone, trying to find help in Home Depot, or the feeling people often have of being a small creature in the shadow of Big Brother. The government plays a major role in both these works."

Ms. Zambello describes herself as a populist whose sole interest is "to have people in the theater and enjoying it." And as she told Washington Opera: "Directing is a completely intangible art form. There is nothing pragmatic about it… It’s a job you can’t audition for."

"The collaboration with Rafael Viñoly has been truly exciting. We looked back to Shostakovich’s world at the time of composition ― just think of the Constructivists ― as well as at the majestic architecture of Gogol’s time. The sets are in an interpretive style with costumes more of an exaggerated realism." For his part, Viρoly, the Uruguay-born architect with a New York-based worldwide career, says "Working with Francesca is a process of enlightenment. Space and form serve a vision which is deeply rooted in a profound understanding of Russian art and the politics of that time. It is a stage that speaks of light and the coldness of social misfit." Viñoly’s most famous design for amusical space is Philadelphia’s stunning Kimmel Center, which includes Verizon Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s new home; his performing space for Jazz at Lincoln Center is under construction at Columbus Circle in New York City.

The plot of The Nose concerns the effects upon a community when a petty functionary’s nose is "mislaid". In the opening scene a barber is scraping away at a customer’s face; the next morning the barber is horrified to find a nose in the freshly-baked bread his wife has grudgingly served him for breakfast. That same morning in another part of St. Petersburg a petty – but very self-important – functionary awakens to discover that his nose has vanished. Meanwhile the barber, Ivan, is trying to get rid of the offending object he’s found in his breakfast.

The Nose itself soon turns up strolling about town in the uniform of an official higher on the food-chain than our petty-functionary, Kovalyoff, who follows it into the cathedral for a ludicrous – and failed – confrontation: how does one address one’s own nose, especially if it’s wearing a uniform of a higher rank than one’s own? The rest of the story concerns the pursuit and eventual capture of the departed appendage, its restoration to its rightful position, and the resumption of life as it used to be. Many officials and non-officials hinder Kovalyoff’s progress and hold up the story with gossip and self-glorification. Kovalyoff, with nose restored, seems not to have learned much from his experiences.

Gogol’s literary slapstick gave the young Shostakovich ample opportunity to pull out all the musical stops: to show off influences of Stravinsky and Berg, folksong, music hall, circus and even cinema (Eisenstein, of course), and to strut his youthful bravado in theatrical experiment. He was only 27 when he began work on The Nose, and several chaotic crowd-scenes demonstrate the young composer’s mastery of many styles. He wrote the opera at a time when many Soviet art forms were bursting with new energy, while opera remained on the proverbial back burner (Prokofiev’s major operatic oeuvre had yet to appear on the scene). Certainly the fact that the Regime prevented additional productions after the premiere would not have encouraged Shostakovich to further attempts at comic – let alone satiric – opera. But he did delight in the production many years later of a single "musical," Cherry Tree Towers, which will also be presented at this year’s SummerScape.

Bard’s production will feature the following singers in principal roles:

Kovalyoff Igor Tarasov

Podtochina Makvala Kasrashvili

Her Daughter Lauren Skuce

Ivan (Barber) Andrei Antonov

Police Inspector Alexander Kravets

Ivan (valet) Alexandre Podbolotov

The Nose Leonid Bomstein

Newspaper Clerk

& Doctor Stanislav Shvets

Tickets for all SummerScape events – including the four performances of The Nose – will go on sale on May 1, 2004. The Bard websites,

And provide more information about ordering tickets to SummerScape and directions for getting to the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.

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Bard contact: Mark Primoff

(845) 758-7412

21C contact: Glenn Petry

(212) 625-2038

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This event was last updated on 05-23-2005