Gogol’s Nose: Considerations
1.You have read Gogol’s Overcoat and his Nose. Both stories are about loss. How do they differ? Tragic and comic?
2.Gogol’s admirers called him a “realist” because of his social criticism. Is the Nose a realistic piece? Is there criticism of society?
3.Dostoevsky said of himself and other nineteenth-century writers, “we all came out of Gogol’s Overcoat.” He had in mind, it seems, the psychological realism of the great Russian novelists. Can you see the roots of this realism in the Overcoat or the Nose?
4.How does Gogol portray the bureaucracy and bureaucrats of Nicholas I’s Russia in each story?
5.Shostakovich changed the setting of the Nose from the Russia of Nicholas I to the Russia of Stalin. How are these two settings comparable? By modernizing the setting, was Shostakovich perhaps preserving something essential in Gogol’s story?
6.One critic (Simon Volkov) has concluded that Shostakovich turns Gogol’s hero (who is presented rather dispassionately) into a tragic figure and gives him a “heartbreaking, passionate aria.” Kovalev in the opera is tortured by the establishment, punished and turned into a pariah. Does this change the impact of Gogol’s original?
7.Look up (Google) this site on the artist William Kentridge (who created this production of the opera) and check out the essay “Serious Play.”
http://www.art21.org/anythingispossible/resources/essays/serious-play/. See the commentary on Shostakovich and the Russia of his time.
8.There is a copy on this site of the libretto for the opera which the Russian writer Zamyatin helped write (author of the dystopian “We” – progenitor of Brave New World and 1984). Is there an element of the anti-utopian in this opera?
9.Look up Russian constructivism and modernism. How does Shostakovich fit in this early Soviet cultural milieu?
10.Considering the stories of the operas you know, does the plot of the Nose seem like opera material? What should you expect at the Met?
11.For your amusement check out Russian animators’ attempts to retell the story of The Nose “Animated Gogol.”