Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky Soloists, Orchestra, and Chorus
This satirical opera shows a young (22, in fact) Shostakovich at, perhaps, his most unhinged. The Nose was completed in 1928 and premiered in 1930. The opera is set in St. Petersburg. Based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol, its absurd plot revolves around the exploits of a pompous government official and his nose. After a visit to the barber, the nose absconds from the man's face and takes on a life of its own; the pretentious bureaucrat is reduced to desperation, frantically searching the city for his lost appendage. Although primarily a comic opera, The Nose touches on the struggle between the individual and society (here portrayed by a cast of over 80 characters), and is one of the most remarkable pieces Shostakovich ever wrote (at least to me).
Shostakovich began work on The Nose soon after the stupendous success of his First Symphony, which was written as his graduation piece at the Leningrad Conservatory and first heard in May 1926, before the composer turned 20 years old. His First Symphony, as we all know, is certainly one of the greatest looks into the composer's core personality, but The Nose broadens this perspective even further. The opera is full of alarming and incongruous but entirely convincing musical turns; virtually the only predictable thing about it is its lack of predictability. Shostakovich was undoubtedly drawn to Gogol's story for its satirical aspects, as many of Shostakovich's pieces could easily be viewed as satirial, mocking, and even subliminally rebellious.
This modern opera masterpiece is highly intense and passionate, a great listen for any fans of the more chaotic realms of music.