Russia: Culture Ministry to probe ‘blasphemous’ Novosibirsk opera

23 March 2015


Russia’s Culture Ministry has announced plans to launch a probe into a beleaguered Novosibirsk production of Richard Wagner’s opera ‘Tannhäuser’, which has provoked the ire of certain powerful members of the Russian Orthodox Christian community.

Director Timofei Kulyabin’s rendition of the opera has been performed at the theatre since December 2014. But then an administrative case was launched against the 30-year-old director on a charge of having offended the sentiments of religious believers.

Prosecutors initiated the case after a regional leader of the Russian Orthodox Church had complained. The Novosibirsk court later dropped this charge, while the prosecutors vowed to appeal that decision.

In a media statement, the theatre’s director Boris Mezdrich referred to the scandal engulfing the production as “a sad precedent” that he hoped “would be first and last in the history of Russian theatre”.

A group of prominent theatre experts who serve as judges for Russia’s national theatre award, the Golden Mask, voiced support for Kulyabin’s production, saying in an open letter that the scandal carries ‘a threat of censorship’.

Many theatres from across the nation have sent letters to Novosibirsk law enforcement agencies and officials, voicing support for the production.

“We are not encroaching on the freedom of creativity; we certainly believe in the most daring possible interpretations of theatrical classics and experimental scenes,” the Culture Ministry said in a statement. “However, the [theatre] should not only warn their viewers about unusual treatments of classic works. They should also try to explain the authors’ concept and what will occur during the production so as to show respect for all types of audience members.”

The ministry added that it retains the right to deny funding or otherwise apply administrative or financial pressure in certain ‘extreme cases’ involving divisive or offensive productions.

Wagner’s opera, first performed in 1845, is about a hero who falls for the charms of Venus but eventually returns to the Catholic church. Kulyabin’s production shifts the action to the present day, making Tannhauser a film director, which the director said is “fairly radical”.

» The Moscow Times – 19 march 2015:
Culture Ministry to Probe ‘Blasphemous’ Novosibirsk Opera
By Ivan Nechepurenko

» The Guardian – 25 February 2015:
Opera director charged by Russian authorities with offending Christians
Timofei Kulyabin attacks ‘absurd’ charge over his production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhauser which is alleged to have ‘desecrated’ the image of Jesus Christ

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