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Music Text

Libretto by Yevgeni Zamyatin, Georgi Ionin, Alexander Preis and the composer, based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol (R)


82 singing/speaking parts which can be doubled by up to 14 solo singers; SATB chorus
1(=picc,afl).1(=corA).1(=Ebcl,bcl).1(=dbn)-1.1(=crt).1(=btrbn).0-perc:tgl/tamb/cast/SD/tom-t/tam-t/rattle/cyms/susp.cyms/BD/gong/whistle/t.bells/glsp/xyl/flex-2hp-2domras(sm,alto)-2balalaikas-pft-strings(12-16/12-16/8-12/8-12/8-12 five-string db)

Abbreviations (PDF)



This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes / Sikorski for UK, British Commonwealth (excluding Canada), Republic of Ireland and Germany.


World premiere incomplete
Malyi Opera Theatre, Leningrad
Company: Malyi Opera

World stage premiere
Academy of Arts, Leningrad
Nikolai Smolich, director
Conductor: Samuil Samosud
Company: Small Opera Theatre of the Academy of Arts, Leningrad


IVAN YAKOVLEVICH, a barber Bass-Baritone
IVAN, Kovalyov's valet Tenor
PRASKOVYA OSSIPOVNA, wife of Ivan Yakovlevich Soprano
A Bread-Seller Soprano
A Clerk in a Newspaper Office Bass-Baritone
IAZIZHKIN, a friend of Kovalyov's Tenor
Eight footmen, Ten Policemen, Nine Gentlemen, Four Eunuchs, Passers-By, People at Coach Station etc. Chorus
Time and Place

St Petersburg, the 1830s


Kovalyov, a government official in St Petersburg, is being shaved by his foul-smelling barber, in preparation for a good time with the girls. The next morning the barber wakes up and, to his wife’s annoyance, finds a severed nose in her fresh-baked morning loaf. He tries to dispose of it in the river but gets stopped by a constable. Kovalyov wakes and finds his nose is missing. Setting off in search, he sees it entering Kazan Cathedral. It is now dressed as an official of superior rank and refuses his polite request to return to his face. Unable to get help from police and lawyers, Kovalyov goes into a crowded newspaper office and attempts to place an advertisement offering a reward for his nose’s return. The clerk refuses to take the advertisement and offers him snuff instead. In despair Kovalyov returns home where he finds his manservant playing the balalaika and spitting at the ceiling. A stage-coach is leaving town and all sorts of colourful travellers are boarding, watched secretly by the police after a tip-off. When the nose appears under cover of darkness, the police arrest it and return it to Kovalyov who finds he cannot get it to stick to his face. He calls a doctor who is no help. Prompted by his friend Yarizhkin, he writes a letter to Madame Podtochina accusing her of bewitching him. She understands this as an amorous advance to her daughter and writes back accepting Kovalyov’s proposal of marriage. The whole town has heard about the Nose and noisy crowds collect in the streets and parks. Kovalyov, who has mysteriously managed to stick his nose back on again, gets himself shaved once more by his barber and sets out for a good time with the girls. On the way, he satisfactorily snubs Madame Podtochina and her daughter and finds a pretty young street-seller who he invites back to his rooms.

Repertoire Note

A satirical opera in three acts.  Libretto by Yevgeni Zamyatin, Georgi Ionin, Aleksandr Preis, and the composer, based on the short story ‘The Nose’ by Nikolai Gogol.

‘The Nose’ is one of the young Shostakovich’s greatest masterpieces, an electrifying tour de force of vocal acrobatics, wild instrumental colours and theatrical absurdity, all shot through with a blistering mixture of laughter and rage. In his first dramatic work the composer immediately showed himself to be a master of musical drama, as well as a born avant-garde experimenter, equally at home with the theatrical modernism of his mentor, the great theatre-director Vsevolod Meyerhold, and the musical modernism of Alban Berg (Berg’s ‘Wozzeck’ had made a tremendous impression on Shostakovich when it was staged in Leningrad).

The plot is based on the one of the most famous stories in Russian literature. A pompous government official, Kovalyov, wakes up one day to find that his nose has taken on a life of its own and gone for a walk around the city of St.Petersburg. In a sequence of scenes that follow one another with cinematic swiftness, we follow Kovalyov’s increasingly ridiculous attempts to chase after his nose, recapture it and stick it back on his face. On the way we encounter singing policemen, a drunken barber, an early 19th century newspaper office, a cathedral choir and the Persian Ambassador. The result, in Shostakovich’s ruthlessly irreverent hands, is like an operatic version of Charlie Chaplin or Monty Python.

Although ‘The Nose’ has been revived with enormous success from time to time, its performances have never been as frequent as this brilliant work deserves. This is a pity, for despite its magnificently absurd subject and virtuosic music, ‘The Nose’ is a perfectly practical work and provides a hugely entertaining evening in the theatre.

Note by Gerard McBurney.



Recommended Recording

Edvard Akimov, Valery Belykh, Nina Sasulova, Boris Tarkhov, Boris Druzhinin, Aleksandr Lomonosov, Igor Paramonov, Valery Solovyanov, Lyudmila Sokolenko, Ashot Sarkisov, Alexander Braim, Lyudmila Sapegina, Lyudmila Ukolova, Moscow Chamber Theatre Chorus, Moscow Chamber Theatre Orchestra, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Melodiya 74321603192

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