* SHOSTAKOVICH: The Nose (complete opera) – Zhanna Dombrovskaya, Tatiana Kravtsova, Elena Vitman, Andrei Popov, Sergey Semishkur, Sergei Skorokhodov, Yevgeny Strashko, Vladislav Sulimsky, Gennady Bezzubenkov/ Mariinsky Orch./Valerie Gergiev – Marinsky (2)

by | Jul 21, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH: The Nose (complete opera) – Zhanna Dombrovskaya, Tatiana Kravtsova, Elena Vitman, Andrei Popov, Sergey Semishkur, Sergei Skorokhodov, Yevgeny Strashko, Vladislav Sulimsky, Gennady Bezzubenkov, Vadim Kravets, Alexei Tanovitsky/ Mariinsky Orchestra/Valerie Gergiev – Marinsky multichannel SACDs MAR501, 102 minutes (2 discs) **** (Dist. by Harmonia mundi):

The Nose (written 1928), a comic opera based on a Nikolai Gogol story, could be the silliest satire I have ever heard. The Soviet ministers of culture need not have raved so much about Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtensk; this inspired piece of nonsense is subversive enough. It is a perfect example of the avantgarde Russian art that flourished in the ten years following the Russian Revolution. From its opening scene, when the barber discovers that he has mistakenly cut the nose off of a customer and his magpie-like wife chides him, the opera never releases its daffy vice grip. In Act II, the police, told to prevent the nose from leaving the city, sing a ten-part chorale led by the inspector, an extended Russian folk song that will make you giggle like a child again. Even the instrumental interludes are pure cockamamie. A polka and waltz are allied to a bizarre fugue, which not only unravels but literally winds down, complete with cranking sounds. Shrill piccolos interrupt cantabile melodies, wild declarations occur next to arioso laments, and atonal episodes clash with neoclassical figures. Despite the humor in this work, Shostakovich was characteristically disingenuous about it: "Regardless of all the comical scenes, the music itself is not funny. I am aiming at true tone." Poor man. He was always looking over his shoulder.

Conductor Valery Gergiev deftly navigates through all this wackiness. Hats off to baritone Vladislav Sulimsky, who plays assessor Platon Kovalyov. He even blubbers rhythmically. The SACD sound is tremendous, with no echoey recitative or stage sounds depicting conflict. I am glad this release has a nice libretto (but oddly, with no “Disc 2” demarcation). Several previous recordings had no librettos and just barely adequate scene summaries. My only gripe is that the two discs are not full; they could have fit one other Shostakovich opera– for instance, The Gamblers. Play this one for your friends next time you hear them complain that Shostakovich is "too nineteeth century," "traditional," "unadventurous," or other such nonsense. You’ll never see an opinion change so quickly.

–Peter Bates


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