The Great Cabaret: Barrie Kosky’s Nose Visits the Royal Theater

A tenor wants to get involved with a soprano and a baritone tries to stop him. According to the popular joke, this is the summary of an opera. Jokes aside, the reality is that with this simple definition we can account for a surprising number of works in the repertoire. But fortunately, there are literary alternatives that explore the dramatic limits of the genre. It is the case of this Nose that the Teatro Real is programming these days and that, by the hand of what I think is the most interesting stage creator of the last decade, Barrie Kosky, offers us an interesting artistic experience for analysis and reflection, governed by a fund of delirious irony .

Vasily Efimov (Ivan), Alexander Teliga (doctor) and Martin Winkler (Platon Kuzmitch Kovaliov)

© Javier del Real | Royal Theatre

Nose –this compendium of theater of the absurd, dadaism, surrealism and even Kafkaesque traces– connects naturally with Kosky’s stage language, they seem made just for each other. The Australian is a specialist in collecting typical scenic media from popular arts and, without betraying his essence, adapting them to the demands of the great opera stages. The crazy story of that sad functionary whose self is split is articulated through the language of cabaret, so appropriate for satire and sociopolitical criticism. Grotesque make-up and spectacular costumes fill the stage with extravagance, sparing no means, creating a rabid visual spectacle of imagination.

As always, the most remarkable aspect of Kosky’s work is that he manages to enter the dangerous terrain of nonsense without ever falling into nonsense or ridicule, and enhancing the essential meaning of the work. Through choreographed noses, cross-dressing daydreams, and vaudeville scenes, the profound themes of Gogol’s work are made clear: convention, appearance value, and identity, to name just a few.

Martin Winkler (Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov), Alexander Teliga (clerk at the newspaper) and the choir

© Javier del Real | Royal Theatre

Much of that same transparency seems to have rubbed off on the orchestra. The score of this work is a field for experimentation by a very young Shostakovich, fascinated with contemporary avant-garde languages. The teacher Wigglesworth takes the opportunity to carry out a reading in which the orchestral colors are the protagonists. Even in the most jumbled moments, those deafening interludes, the sections appear with their own personality, as parts of a whole, but with timbre independence –a magnificent way, by the way, of honoring the essence of the libretto.

Nose surrounded by dancers

© Javier del Real | Royal Theatre

It is not easy to follow the myriad of characters, up to eighty between declaimed and sung, that populate this story and are interpreted by thirty singers; This is, by the way, one of the biggest difficulties when programming this work. Of this hubbub, we must highlight the remarkable performance of the protagonist, Martin Winkler, displaying a variety of theatrical registers without forgetting the firmness of the singing, and that of Iwona Sobotka in her fourfold role, of which the marriageable daughter stands out, delicately interpreted and rigor, compatible with the comic vis of the character. Deserved applause for the dancers and the choir, this time taken beyond their usual duties.

Anyone who approaches this production expecting canonical structure, or the heavy doses of soulful emotion that often accompanies an operatic experience, will undoubtedly be disappointed. Nose offers us something different, the opportunity to reflect on creation in its historical context, the avant-garde, politics, society and philosophy. All wrapped up in the powerful visual language of one of the most original creators of the last decade. And, as if that were not enough, even some laughter.