Based on the novella of the same name by Nikolai Gogol, »The Nose« displays the early genius of the 22-year-old Dmitri Shostakovich. While Gogol’s work satirized tsarist officialdom, the opera, which premiered in 1930, places the spotlight on an entire society when an opportunistic official finds himself ensnared by petty bureaucracy, a nose becomes a media sensation and the police keep a close watch on their citizens. Featuring dance tunes, balalaikas, Russian church music and classical music’s first essay into pure percussion, »The Nose« is no less grotesque than the strange events it narrates: The nose of the collegiate assessor Kovalev has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Understandably, Kovalev is beside himself – What is a person without their nose? The vain civil servant turns to the police, then to the press, and descends ever deeper into a grotesque and surreal vortex, in which all sense of normality is lost.
Strange things have been happening in the city: one morning the barber Ivan Yakovlevich finds a nose in a piece of bread. A shaving accident? His wife suspects drunkenness at work and demands that he get that thing out of the apartment! But when Ivan Yakovlevich tries to get rid of the troublesome nose, he is caught by the police. At the same time, the Collegiate Assessor Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov wakes up and is horrified to realize that his nose has disappeared! Kovalev wants to report the theft of the nose to the police immediately. On his way to the police chief, he observes his nose, in formal dress, entering a church. Kovalyov confronts the renegade olfactory organ, but the nose pretends not to know him.
Kovalyov hurries on to the police chief, but both there and in the newspaper office the pleas of the noseless official fall on deaf ears. Kovalyov is in despair.
But this is only the beginning: out of the blue, a constable brings back the lost nose. But what to do with it? Kovalyov moves heaven and earth to get his nose back onto his face. Meanwhile, word of the case has got around. A nose is walking around the city, what a sensation! The appearance of the nose in a department store provokes unheard-of crowds. But all of a sudden the nose is back on the face of the Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov. What does it all mean?