James Levine is not the only major return at the Metropolitan Opera this week. Coming back for just seven performances between September 28 and October 26 is one of the Met’s most artistically acclaimed productions in recent years, Shostakovich early, wildly inventive, over-the-top adaptation of Gogol’s classic story, “The Nose.”
Picked by every critic as the best of the year when it was first introduced at the Met in 2010, this production by South African artist William Kentridge features giant papier-mâché and projected film versions of Kentridge’s own extravagantly hooked Jewish schnoz, appearing as Gogol’s eponymous proboscis running loose in Moscow. Both the opera and this production are a breathtaking, risk-taking adventure.
Gogol’s story manifestly resists dramatization, so Kentridge faced quite a challenge adapting it for the stage. His antic vision — half-Constructivist and half-Dada — had distractions across every vertical and horizontal inch of the stage. Normally so many disparate gambles would careen apart into shambles, but this was the exceptional success — perhaps because Shostakovich did the same thing with the music. Kentridge’s opening gambit brilliantly shows what he’s up to: During the opera’s introduction, the mysterious shadows of a slowly turning machine appear to be flying apart with pieces reaching the far edges of the stage-screen, only to coalesce suddenly into a stunning line-drawing portrait of Shostakovich. That combination of wildness and precision embodies the whole production.
Shostakovich’s nose-thumbing score (this was composed in 1928 before the Stalinist censorship and terror) bristles with attitude, including wild shifts of technique and tone. Conductor Valery Gergiev is again conducting the first four of the seven performances. Last time he brilliantly managed to get the Met orchestra and singers to ride this roller coaster while hanging on for dear life.