It was a packed house for the Metropolitan Opera Premiere of "The Nose", and a great buzz throughout the house. Listening in to conversations, a lot of people there were primarily Kentridge/art fans, so they didn't really know what they were getting into, musically...
And, well, Nose is not the easiest musical thing on earth. Much of the music is practically atonal, and on the spiky side even for Shostakovich, lacking the expansive lyricism that would later surface in Lady Macbeth, especially in the grim fourth act of that piece. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of his better-known works are all present: the tendency to pair very high and very low instruments, prominent lines for solo wind instruments, the love of the jaunty and tonally somewhat off-kilter, the world as seen through a cracked mirror. Tons of percussion, especially tuned--there's even an interlude entirely for percussion, which only Ligeti would later one-up with the opening toccata for car horns in Le Grand Macabre.
The production, accordingly, is a perfect match of director to material. It looks like an experimental Soviet film brought to life on the Met stage. The work is given without intermission (only a short break for retuning before the third act), and the set is fluid so no pauses need to be taken between the many scenes of the opera. The dominant theme is newsprint in both Russian and English. Projections done in the style of old Newscasts of the World (scrolling over the globe) describe changes of locale. Some of the action is a little obscure if you don't know the plot, but the outlines are always easy to follow. The musical side of things had a few bumps on opening night, but the orchestra (as always) sounds great and plays the score with both verve and swagger. Szot is great in the title role, only showing a few audibility problems in the cathedral scene--but he's very funny in all of the different moods required from Kovalyov, which matters more in this kind of piece. Other top vocal honors go to Andrei Popov in the Astrologer-high role of the Police Inspector, and always a pleasure to see Vladimir Ognovenko back, playing the hapless barber and other roles. Costumes are a mix of straightforward, slightly surreal, and really surreal, but all contribute to this late 1920s vibe, which works well for the piece (technically set in 1830). I wish I read Russian, because many of the costumes are also festooned with writing, making the characters into extensions of the same aesthetic of the sets. The skill with projections and video is top-notch, and the flexibility that they can add to a staging is really superb.
Opening night the production team received huge acclaim at the curtain call, and all of them were there--Kentridge took a solo bow, got cheered for, and then everyone else came out and got cheered loudly as well. The opera is a bit of a curate's egg, but I can't imagine a more fun and thoughtful production of this piece. A real pity it's not being HD broadcast to delight and confuse out in the hinterlands.