“The Nose”. Opera
Leningrad State Academic Maly Opera Theatre. Director N. Smolich. Conductor S. Samosud.
Piano Score: Leningrad “Sokol” Pubishers, 1929; Score: Moscow, “Muzfond” Publishers, 1970
Dmitri Shostakovich’s Archive, rec. gr. 1, section 1, f. 321 (score)
"...this subject attracted me through its fantastic, ridiculous content, presented by Gogol in an utterly realistic tone.
In "The Nose" Gogol, using the strange event of the loss of a nose by Collegiate Assessor, Kovalyov, creates a remarkable satire on the times of Nicholas I. He presents us with the image of the helpless and banal Kovalyov, who was unable to come up with anything better than announcing the loss of his nose in the newspaper; a dim-witted bureaucrat from the newspaper office; a local constable obsessed with administrative zeal; a bribe-taker; a drunkard barber with his nagging wife and many other characters - all typical in their triteness against the general background of an age dominated by bureaucrats and the police. This absorbing subject gives rise to many impressive theatrical situations."
"The emphasis here is on the presentation of the text. I should add, that the music does not have the flavour of a deliberate parody. No! In spite of the comic nature of what is happening on stage, the music is not comic. I consider this to be correct, because Gogol himself imparts to all his comic situations a serious
tone. Herein lies the power and the true quality of Gogol's humour. He does not 'make fun'. The music also tries not to 'make fun'".
"The music is written not as a series of individual numbers, but as a continuous symphonic whole, without a pattern of leitmotifs. Each act is part of an integrated musical-theatrical symphony. A prominent place is accorded to the chorus and vocal ensembles..."
"When writing this opera, I did not concentrate in the slightest on the fact that an opera is first and foremost a musical work. In "The Nose" the elements of action and music are on a par. Neither occupies pride of place. In this way I tried to create a synthesis of music and theatrical performance"
"There are many fine operas, which - musically speaking - are not operas at all. It is just that the composer has written his music on a subject which adheres approximately to the demands of the genre, whereas a truly operatic work has to provide a synthesis of music and action.
The composer as a creator of opera also has to be a playwright. He is writing a drama in music. It is easy to stage the work of a composer of this kind in an opera house. All you need to do is to know the rules of his game and to be in step with him. Indeed, in 'The Nose' Shostakovich left the performers scope for a variety of approaches to their characters and the director scope for presenting the action. Yet the essence of the drama. the nature of the conflict and the dramatic tension were, without doubt, to be found in the music itself. Nothing was left to the imagination. Everything is in the music".
"The audience does not watch an opera through the eyes of its heroes. Nor does it identify with them. The audience makes its choices, it is active. The words used on stage are exploited to the full. Moreover, the main satirical device of Gogol's story is retained. Gogol, as a virtuoso story-teller, presents all Kovalyov's ridiculous adventures in a totally serious and matter-of-fact tone, which achieves the maximum comic effect. Shostakovich does exactly the same".
Opera in Three Acts and Ten Scenes
Libretto by Yevgeni Zamyatin, Georgy Ionin, Alexander Preys and Dmitri Shostakovich after Nikolai Gogol’s like-named story.
In April 1926, Shostakovich was a post-graduate student at the Leningrad Conservatory in Maximilian Steinberg’s composition class, and wrote his opera The Nose based on Gogol’s “St. Petersburg Tale” of the same name as his post-graduate work.
Shostakovich began writing the opera in the summer of 1927, even before he finished his one-movement Second Symphony, Op. 14 (it was written under contract with the State Publishers music Sector for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution; the score was completed before 10 August).
The composer first mentioned the idea of writing The Nose in a letter to Boleslav Yavorsky on 12 June: “As soon as I finish the symphonic poem (future Second Symphony), I will start on the opera. It will be based on Gogol’s The Nose. I will write the libretto myself. If there are any difficulties, I will ask Radlov. I have almost finished the overture already.”
Later, Shostakovich presented the chronology of the composition of The Nose as follows: “The first act was written in a month, the second, after a short break, in two weeks, and the third, again after a break, in three weeks.” It cannot be established on the basis of this description whether or not Shostakovich took breaks while writing the separate acts or whether each act was written at one sitting. Nor is it clear whether this chronology also included the orchestration.
Shostakovich originally asked veteran Yevgeni Zamyatin to write the libretto. His adaptation of Leskov’s The Lefty (under the title The Flea) with stage decorations by Boris Kustodiyev and music by Yuri Shaporin was an important event in Leningrad’s theatrical life in the mid-1920s. Later, young writers Georgy Ionin and Alexander Preys, the future librettist for the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, were involved in writing the script for The Nose. There is reason to believe that Ivan Sollertinsky, Shostakovich’s close friend since the middle of 1927, participated in elaborating the concept of the opera, but there are no documents confirming this. However, there can be no doubt that Shostakovich himself was the main librettist of The Nose.
The composer explained his choice of literary base post factum in an article published immediately after the premiere of the opera at the beginning of 1930. Shostakovich said that he turned to the classics because there was no suitable material in modern Soviet literature, and contemporary writers did not want to work with him in “developing Soviet opera art”. Convinced that “in our day and age, opera on a classical subject ... is more suitable, given the satirical nature of the theme”, Shostakovich “began looking for a subject in the three giants of Russian satire—Gogol, Saltykov-Shchedrin and Chekhov” and “finally decided on Gogol’s The Nose”.
Even before the score of The Nose was finished, in February 1928, a contract for the opera was reviewed by the artistic council that served both Leningrad opera theatres—the Maly (Malegot) and Academic (Gatob); in May, the council listened to the two acts that were ready by that time. Soon after that, Shostakovich joined the seven fragments of the opera into a suite for concert performance (Op. 15a).
At first it was presumed that The Nose would be performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Meyerhold’s production. In the end, the opera was staged at Leningrad’s Malegot and conducted by Samuil Samosud, a convicted propagandist of new music, primarily Soviet, and supporter of Shostakovich’s oeuvre (later, in 1934, he staged Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District at Malegot, in 1942 performed the Leningrad Symphony for the first time, and in 1956 returned the Eighth Symphony, which had been under unofficial ban since the time of the Zhdanovshchina, to concert life). The concert premiere of The Nose on Malegot’s stage under the baton of Samosud took place on 16 June 1929. On 14 January 1930, four days before the stage premiere, three scenes from the opera were shown in Leningrad’s Moscow-Narva House of Culture with explanations by Shostakovich himself and musicologists Sollertinsky and Yulian Vainkop. Finally, on 18 January 1930, the premiere of the opera was staged at Malegot, produced by Nikolai Smolich, stage design by Vladimir Dmitriyev.
The opera was removed from the repertoire a year later after being performed 16 times. The critics of the Stalin era insistently posed Shostakovich’s first opera as an embodiment of the most pernicious extremes of petty bourgeois modernism in the still weak Soviet music culture of the 1920s.33 The first serious analytical study about The Nose appeared only in 1965.
The sensational renewal of the opera in the Soviet Union (Moscow, Chamber Music Theatre, 1974, conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, director Boris Pokrovsky) was preceded by performances in Italy, West Germany, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Great Britain.
The fair manuscript of the score of the opera The Nose was the property of Universal Edition, a Viennese music publishing house, which had been regularly printing music from the Soviet Union since 1925. The score was evidently submitted to the publishing house at the beginning of the 1930s, but it was not published until 1970. At present, the score is kept in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Archive.
- Moscow Chamber Music Theatre, Vladimir Agronsky (chorus-master), Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (conductor).
Eduard Akimov (Kovalyov), Valeri Belykh (Ivan Yakovlevich), Boris Tarkhov (District Inspector), Boris Druzhinin (Ivan), Aleksandr Lomonosov (Nose), Lyudmila Sapegina (Pelageya Podtochina), Lyudmila Ukolova (Podtochina’s daughter), Nina Zazulova (Barber’s wife);
Melodiya C10 07007-10 (recorded in 1974; issued in 1977).
- Le Chant du Monde LDX 78609/10.