On Saturday afternoon, I braved the weather to stand at the top of a packed house for the much-anticipated production of "The Nose." Between the sinister absurdity of Gogol's plot, the torrential sound of Shostakovich's music, and the provocative commentary of Kentridge's direction and set design, I found it to be a demanding experience. This is anything but a complaint: thanks to the orchestra under Gergiev and the fine singers, I never felt lost. And I was excited to find Kentridge's much-hyped production stirringly bold without heavy-handedness. (If I divide less-than-literalistic production designs into those which make me think, "What are they doing?!? WHY?!?" and those which make me think, "Hm, how interesting, I wonder if..." this would fall into the latter category.) As the above picture from the New York Times (showing the letter scene between Kovalyov and Mme. Grigorievna, with fugitive nose above) illustrates, it was frequently dominated by text, and individuals were dwarfed by their surroundings, their own actions in sharp relief against context which threatened to confine and crush them. An art critic's review of a Kentridge exhibit including his Nose-related work may be found here; a forthcoming book of prints here.
Gergiev made precise, ironic-humorist sense out of a score which (according to the program note) is over 500 pages long. I wish I could more effectively analyze the strident or ethereal solos, the furious, frustrated attempts of individuals and groups to make themselves not only heard but understood (the scene where Kovalyov attempts to place a newspaper advertisement was especially striking.) The orchestra made the absurdity of the unfolding events seem fateful. I was surprised by the amount of laughter I heard in the audience; I don't deny Gogol's (and Shostakovich's) humor, but it was dark enough that I didn't feel one could laugh except uneasily. Perhaps the greatest compliment the audience paid the work was the buzz of talk that started even during the curtain calls and continued past the doors onto a rain-lashed Lincoln Center.