“The Nose” Comes to New York

The Nose, which opened Friday March 5 at the Metropolitan Opera, is one of the most delightfully bizarre shows playing in New York right now. The score by Dmitri Shostakovich challenges the listener—not to mention the singers and the orchestra—with unexpected musical quirks that match the opera’s strange story of a man who awakes one morning to find that his nose is missing.

For this production, director William Kentridge brings a heightened visual sensibility to the sets, lighting, and visual effects. Many of the latter are digital projections that depict in silhouette the various escapades of the mischievous Nose as it cavorts, independent of its human owner, around St. Petersburg in the guise of a State Councilor.

Sound odd? It is. But in the Met’s production, all these peculiar components gel into a surprisingly coherent whole, resulting in a rarity: an opera that is both high art and joyous entertainment.

The enormous cast is led by Brazilian baritone Paolo Szot, who makes his Met debut after winning a Tony in 2008 for his role in South Pacific, also at Lincoln Center. Szot gives a solid performance that emphasizes the humor in his character’s unfortunate plight. The show demands much from all the singers, particularly those who play multiple roles. Bass-baritone Philip Horst, who convincingly portrays four different characters over the course of a brief hour and forty-five minutes, comments, “One has to jump into a scene running and nail the tight musical ensemble and staging without throwing other people off—which is saying a lot because this music is very difficult.”

Describing Shostakovich’s music as difficult is almost an understatement, given its extreme complexity. Horst explains, “So often, even when you get the music right, it sounds wrong due to the angular and seemingly random vocal and melodic lines, the compound meter, the orchestration full of effects, and the contrary musical ideas.” Still, when it’s innovatively directed, seamlessly conducted, and skillfully sung, The Nose is an amalgamation of impossibilities that fuse into a tangibly exciting piece— in its musicality and theatricality alike. One might not fully understand it, but it can still be fully enjoyed.