Dmitri Shostakovich’s rarely performed first opera, The Nose (1930), premièred in the Sydney Opera House on 21 February. To add to the ‘firsts’: this was Barrie Kosky’s début at Covent Garden in 2016, it is Kosky’s first work for Opera Australia in almost twenty years, and this is the first professional production of this grotesque and satirical opera in Sydney, and possibly Australia.
Like many other operas, The Nose is greatly assisted by excellent staging; as is the case with few operas, its outrageously quirky music would work less well without the visual experience. Music and action are of equal importance here. The frequent use of orchestral sounds to imitate noises (such as the dramatic sneeze at the very end of the opera), the intermezzo written solely for percussion instruments, the extremes of vocal and instrumental registers, the long and awkward intervals in the singing parts, and many other effects make this opera a highly eccentric musical encounter. This brilliantly scored work manifestly breaks with the conventions of arias and cantilena musical lines, as it expresses the text through continuous speech-like recitatives and even, recitative-like speeches; the composer regularly includes prose in his opera.