Kosky’s genius brings hilarity to an opera farce: The Nose – an opera review by Victor Grynberg

February 25, 2018 by Victor Grynberg
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Based on a novel by Gogol, Shostakovich’s opera The Nose is as ridiculous a story as ever seen in opera.

Dancers in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of The Nose at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo credit: Prudence Upton

Performing at the Sydney Opera House Kovalev (Austrian bass Martin Winkler ) realises he’s lost his nose and we then see the nose in dough being rolled out by the wife of the barber Ivan (England’s Sir John Tomlinson ) who the day before had shaved Kovalev.

In this two hour no interval production the rest of the performance is the search to regain the nose.

That this isn’t the greatest piece of non-melodic rubbish you’ll ever see is mainly to the credit of director Barrie Kosky and his skilful team.

Instead it’s a triumph of the highest order with an amazingly rehearsed company of more than 80 performers, and the excellent Opera Orchestra, conducted by the enthusiastic Andrea Molino.

Martin Winkler in the all-important central role of the clown like Kovalev reprises his 2016 Covent Garden role.

Martin Winkler, ensemble and dancers in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of The Nose at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo credit: Prudence Upton

His face must have been created just for this role, he fits the character so well. Though not the music you’d ever hum , listening to his beautiful bass baritone was a pleasure, as with the multi-roled Sir John Tomlinson.

These welcome imports are very ably supported by a strong local support group. Playing multiple roles and ending the opera with a great speech was the excellent Antoinette Halloran.

The dialogue was part of the  brilliant new translation  by David Pountney. Though the opera was sung in English, surtitles were used to ensure the audience didn’t miss any of the jokes or witticisms.

Alexander Lewis fresh from his triumph in The Merry Widow impresses again, playing three roles including the nose! Definitely worthy of positive mention include Kanen Breen, Jacqueline Dark and Sian Pendry amid a strong cast.

Kosky doesn’t do it all by himself and clearly one of his skills is to select people who complement his vision  . There’s one particular part of the production which the packed audience on opening night were raving about. The choreography designed by Austrian Otto Pichler and revived locally by Thomas Herron. If I was to list the three main dance routines – dancing policemen, tap-dancing full-bodied noses and bearded cross-dressers in fur and fishnets- you’d get some idea of this hilarious farce. I think it would be fair to say this was the best group of male dancers I’ve ever seen in an OA production. Outstanding!

Alexander Lewis, Martin Winkler and chorus in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of The Nose at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo credit: Prudence Upton

The Nose provides a much greater challenge for a director. Nabucco is full of glorious melodies from Verdi. Though Shostakovich was quite capable of writing melody, the then 20-year-old was clearly intent on writing an operatic score unlike anyone had heard before. Though sung to the highest standards, especially by imported stars Martin Winkler and Sir John Tomlinson, the music is a world away from the first three operas this season, written by melodists Puccini, Lehar and Bizet. The range of sounds is immense, many atonal,  all carefully planned by the composer to emphasise points of his story

The simple set, designed by Klaus Grunberg is highly effective and proof that often less is more.

Opera companies aren’t famous nowadays for long rehearsal times, so that this large group was so perfect on Opening Night was remarkable

More kudos to Kosky . During one of the longest rounds of applause I’ve ever heard in Sydney , Kosky and his colleagues joined the cast on stage , much to the delight of a very enthusiastic and appreciative audience.

I became aware of the genius of Barrie Kosky in the early 90s with the founding of his Gilgul Theatre Company.

Anyone fortunate enough to have seen his production of The Dybbuk in what was then Sydney’s Eveleigh Railway Yards will not have forgotten the theatrical genius so evident already.

Kosky has since gone from success to success, including the Adelaide Festival ,  the Vienna Schauspielhaus and in recent years  even greater success as Director of Berlin’s beloved Komische Oper.

Over the years we’ve been fortunate to see quite a few Kosky directed operas for Opera Australia. The Golem and a controversial production of  Nabucco stand out.

The Nose is not an opera for everyone, but throw away your preconceptions, be ready for a night of rollicking humour and enjoy.

Five stars

*****

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