Shostakovich left The Gamblers, based on a play by Gogol, unfinished, completing only about a third of what would have been a three-hour opera. Judging from the fertile inventiveness and wit of the fragment, it's a genuine loss that the composer never brought the project to fruition; the contemporary operatic repertoire is in dire need of comedies that could actually make audiences laugh.
Fortunately, Shostakovich did complete The Nose, his first opera, also based on Gogol, written when he was only 22, and it has a freshness and comedic and musical resonance that surpass The Gamblers. It's a remarkably assured and fully successful and mature work, a neglected comic masterpiece that only since the composer's death has begun to gain a foothold in the repertoire of more adventurous opera houses. This renewed interest was due in no small part to the advocacy of conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky. The Nose is a musically spiky work, but the infectious loopiness of the whole undertaking could make believers even out of listeners generally resistant to "modern" opera. Its musical eccentricities never seem contrived, but like the spontaneous expression of the absurd narrative. Rozhdestvensky leads a performance with the Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Moscow Chamber Musical Theatre, dating from 1975. Rozhdestvensky's reading has a zany abandon to which the singers and instrumentalists respond with appropriately over-the-top performances; in spite of the score's treacherous demands, the performers are entirely invested in the opera and make it sound like they are all having a marvelous time. The same forces bring a comparable commitment to The Gamblers. The sound is very fine, with excellent balance that always keep the voices in the forefront. The CD should be of strong interest to fans of the composer and of early twentieth century opera.