Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Chorus

Dmitri Shostakovich: The Nose

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As the indefatigable Valery Gergiev works his way through the standard and not-so-standard repertoire of Russian opera, it's a delight that he has turned his attention to Shostakovich's astonishing The Nose, written when the composer was just 22. The opera is astonishing not only because of the young composer's absolute mastery of one of the most difficult art forms (which makes it all the more tragic that he completed only two operas), but because of the daring originality of his music, which is ideally suited to the absurdist story by Gogol on which it's based. (The British musicologist Arthur Jacobs called The Nose "the comic Wozzeck.") The opera is full of alarming and incongruous but entirely convincing musical turns; virtually the only predictable thing about it is its lack of predictability. The zany and eccentric orchestration, which prominently features the percussion, is unlike quite anything that had come before it. Shostakovich's vocal writing is mostly atonal, but it's relatively lyrical, without the angularity that frequently characterizes atonal vocal writing. Gergiev leads the Chorus and Orchestra and soloists of the Mariinsky Theatre in a colorful and propulsive reading that fully exposes the brash quirkiness of the score. The opera has over 80 characters, and even with extensive doubling of minor roles, the vocal resources it requires are huge. It's very much an ensemble piece, and the Mariinsky singers perform it with polish and gusto. Vladislas Sulimsky and Sergey Semishkur are especially effective in the critical roles of the hapless Kovalev and his errant nose. The sound of the SACD is vibrant and clean, with a terrific sense of presence and immediacy. Highly recommended for any fans of modern opera.

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