10. Shostakovich

Again, this week two (very!) contrasted operas, this time by Dmitri Shostakovich: The Nose, a fantastic satire/comedy based on a short story by Gogol and Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, drawn from Nokolai Leskov’s 1865 novella of the same name. (Getting a sense of déjà vu? Remember last week’s Prokofiev page?)

The Nose was completed in 1928 and is a virtuoso combination of styles (ranging from Wozzeck to music hall), brilliant orchestration and vocal pyrotechnics; also – if you happen to share in that grotesque, Russian sense of humour – it’s (apparently) screamingly funny.

Lady Macbeth (also know in a later (1962) version by the composer as Katerina Izmailova) originally dates from 1934. It takes verismo to a new level with its (musically, anyway) explicit sex scenes, so much so that one American wit described the opera as ‘pornophony’. It also contains some magnificent music and was at first internationally successful but, in 1936, fatefully, Stalin attended a performance and walked out after Act 3. A few days later the review below appeared in Pravda; the phrase at the end of the fourth paragraph ‘… that may end very badly’ had, for the opera’s composer, a particularly ominous ring to it.

Shostakovich never wrote another opera.

The Nose: a Moscow Chamber Opera production with English subtitles.

Act I
Cathedral
Act II
Act III
Epilogue

You can also view the Royal Opera House/Barrie Kozsky’s wonderfully outrageous production (complete with tap-dancing noses) in English – but also with English subtitles – by clicking on the word ‘here’ here – sorry, the terrible sense of humour’s catching!

This is the 1966 film of Katerina Izmailova – the 1962 version of the opera – with Galina Vishnevskaya in the title role (and English subtitles). It will give you some idea of the work, but has been cut quite considerably. If it does move you to further exploration, visit YouTube where you can discover any number of versions of the piece.

Act I
Act II
Act III
Act IV

Sorry! No scores, they’re still in copyright.