As the curtain’s closed on the final performance of this fall’s run of The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera, the audience was brought to their feet in a lengthy ovation. I always get soaring sense of pride seeing actors take a bow on stage, as if I had, in some way, contributed to the work–a “yes, WE did it” feeling. In this particular piece, this feeling was even more pronounced than usual, and in retrospect, I blame Kentridge’s lecture I attended earlier this month. Much of the artist’s work is concerned with the uncertainties of sight and perception–individualized, varied in perspective. Just as the lecture provided several options for viewing a single piece, The Nose was constructed in way which encouraged the audience member to make their own viewing decisions which produced alternate readings of the narrative.
If one were to approach The Nose as a seasoned opera-goer with the expectations of any production characteristic of the Met’s slightly conservative production history, disappointment, confusion, irritation, or similar emotions would certainly ensue. For example the white-haired woman seated to my left in head-to-toe fur who whispered to her friend, “Are there any famous arias in this opera?” was in for a bit of a shock. Similarly, the ancient man to my right fell asleep in the first act. A little rukous and a lot absurd, The Nose disturbs, topples, and haphazardly/masterfully re-constructs opera for all willing participants.
Kentridge’s signature style dominates the production: consistent red, white, and white pallet, generous use of animation and collage, political themes balanced by humor. Shastakovich’s adaptation of Gogol’s short story of the same name, lends itself beautifully to Kentridge’s touch, and is allowed to venture further into the absurd. Several screens are used to create flattened space and to break up scenes, also providing a surface for animation. As if the extensive used of projection is not enough of a stand-out element in the world of opera, the animation acts as characters itself similar to a live action/animation combination on film. The title character is often depicted in projection, leaping up onto physical sets in direct contact with the protagonist, Kovalyov. A projection of a torn-paper animated horse is a recurring character used to appear to pull the sets on and off stage– synching up with the performers. This constant relationship between real and un-real, 2 and 3-D worlds, relates to the themes of non-sensical hierarchies. “Why do people go crazy over nonsense?” a character proclaimes towards the end of the performance. Select lines are projected on stage, some translated to English from the origianl Russian, some translated into 5 languages at once, flickering in time with the music. The chaotic nature of the design is riveting but, as it is impossible to take all aspects in simultaneously, the viewer must take sides. If one chooses to follow the subtitles, the projected lines are lost and vise versa. Everything happens at such a pace that no two viewings could be the same. I think that Kentridge is fueled by confusion and the idea that only upon extraction and digestion of select elements can the event begin to accrue meaning. Isolation of a way of understanding. Humor as a perspective for acceptance.