The Nose is an Opera Reaching Improbable Limits and Defying Normality

The Nose is a rarely performed surrealist satire debuted by Barrie Kosky at the Royal Opera House. It is a product of Shostakovich, a soviet composer and pianist who, in the 1930’s, impressively conceived the score of the Nose based on Gogol’s story.

The stage is comprised of a round grey platform, surrounded by darker grey panels that shape the décor. This setting is used throughout the performance as the interior of Kovalov’s (the main character) life; a bedroom, streets and a café. The scenes don’t require more than three or four props: a mirror, a bed or some tables. The characters’ flow on the scene create the close-ups and the distance, just like a camera, or a more detailed set might do. The director, Barrie Kosky, has the aim of letting his audience’s imagination run wild and interpret the scenes themselves. From the beginning, the ambiance is paced by a cacophony, as the dissonant music scored by Shostakovich embraces Gogol’s surrealism. The acts link up fast, which makes the story easy to follow and triggers a swirl of music, words, and magical appearances, such as The Nose.

The Nose, entering the stage, dancing on real legs, sets the tone of the piece. We have entered an imaginary world, inspired by Alice in Wonderland. There is a bold character impersonated by Kovalov (who is perhaps the rabbit?), revolving tables, The Nose and his nose-friends tap dancing in unison, which transport the audience, including myself, to an unsettling parallel sort of “what the hell is going on?” universe that is punctuated with bewildered chuckling. Yet, this is our reality for the evening, sat at the Royal House watching travesties dancing the French Can-can, in a soviet urban background.

Although derision and airiness are ubiquitous, sadness and empathy materialize from time to time in the character of Kovalov. His quest for a new nose and everything that it symbolizes; power, seduction and normality, is disheartening. He is left helpless, alone and almost depressed. The end of the performance comes quickly as does Kovalov’s cynicism. By getting his nose back on his face he is finally able to breath, smell and flirt again.

To add even more doubts and confusion, just before the final scene, a woman steps in, clad in in normal clothing, holding a microphone, and in a calm and reassuring tone, confirms what we’ve just been watching: a bizarre, surreal and at times grotesque performance. She is quite convincing though. Why wouldn’t we want to follow the adventures of a nose that has been cut off from a vain character, frolicking in a hazardous town and finally brought back to its owner to fulfill its simple yet crucial destiny: being a feature on a face? I know I would.

The Nose at ROH (20 October—9 November 2016)

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