Libretto by the composer, with Yevgeny Zamyatin, Georgi Ionin, and Alexander Preis, based on the story by Nicolai Gogol
World premiere: Leningrad, Maly Theater, January 18, 1930
St. Petersburg/Leningrad. Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov gets a shave in Yakovlevich’s barbershop. The following morning, Yakovlevich, to his horror, finds a human nose in a freshly baked loaf of bread. Furious, his wife accuses him of having cut off the nose of one of his customers and orders him to dispose of it. Yakovlevich tries to get rid of the nose in the street but keeps running into acquaintances and becomes increasingly confused. When he finally manages to throw the nose into the Neva River, a police officer sees him and takes him in for questioning.
Kovalyov awakes and discovers that his nose has disappeared. His initial disbelief turns into shock and he rushes off to search for it. Entering the cathedral, he finds the nose, now the size of a human being, at prayer and dressed in the uniform of a State Councilor. He asks it to return to its proper place, but the nose doesn’t understand him and refuses to have anything to do with a person of lower rank. When Kovalyov is momentarily distracted, the nose escapes.
Still in search of his missing nose, Kovalyov arrives at the apartment of the chief of police, who is not at home. Frustrated, he decides to place an advertisement in the paper. At the newspaper office, the clerk is busy with the footman of a countess whose dog has gone missing. When Kovalyov is finally able to explain his situation, the clerk refuses to accept the advertisement, claiming that the paper would lose its good reputation. Kovalyov pleads with him and uncovers his face, revealing that his nose is truly gone. The astonished clerk recommends that Kovalyov sell his story and, in a gesture of friendship, offers him a pinch of snuff. Insulted, Kovalyov leaves. Back home, he finds his servant lying idly on the sofa, playing the balalaika. He sends him away and launches into a monologue of self-pity.
The police have taken up the chase and are looking for the nose. At a railway station on the outskirts of the city, an inspector rallies his men. Travelers get ready to leave. A young pretzel vendor distracts the policemen and general confusion ensues, when suddenly the nose enters running, trying to stop the train. Everybody pursues the nose, which is finally arrested, beaten back to its normal size, and wrapped in a piece of paper.
The inspector returns the nose to Kovalyov, who unsuccessfully tries to reattach it to his face. Even a doctor can’t help. Kovalyov now suspects that the cause of his misfortune might be Madame Podtochina, who put a spell on him for refusing to marry her daughter. He writes her a letter but her reply convinces him that she had nothing to do with the matter. Meanwhile, rumors have spread that the nose is on the loose in the city, and people rush about to catch a glimpse of it until police restore order.
Kovalyov awakes one morning to find his nose back in its place. Overjoyed, he dances a polka. Yakovlevich, who has just been released from prison, arrives to give him a shave. Kovalyov strolls along Nevsky Prospect greeting acquaintances, delighted by the return of his nose. Some of the characters reflect on the story just told.