‘Blasphemous’ opera: theatre chief sacked
Boris Mezdrich, above, has lost his job as director of the Siberian Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre after staging a ‘blasphemous’ version of Richard Wagner’s 19th-century opera Tannhauser.
According to this report, he was dismissed from his post by Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky after Mezdrich came under fire from the conservative, increasingly influential Russian Orthodox Church.
A local Russian Orthodox cleric filed a lawsuit last month against Mezdrich and the director of the Tannhauser production, Timofei Kulyabin, accusing them of desecrating Christ’s image and offending believers.
Activists protested against the production, which portrayed the title character as a director making a film about Jesus visiting Venus’s erotic grotto.
Mezdrich’s dismissal was announced as thousands of people demonstrated outside the theatre in the center of Novosibirsk, saying the production was offensive to Christians and reflected the values of a decadent West.
One of the signs held by the protesters declared:
Orthodox Christianity is the foundation of the great Russian culture.
The protests reflected what liberals say is an oppressive atmosphere in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has portrayed his country as a bulwark against an immoral West and allowed the Russian Orthodox Church increasing sway over everyday life despite the legal separation of church and state.
A deputy chief of President Vladimir Putin’s administration, Magomedsalam Magomedov, said on March 30 that:
State theaters must stay away from performances that split Russian society.
As the controversy grew in recent weeks, many Russian cultural figures spoke out in defence of the theater’s interpretation of the opera, and a court in Novosibirsk cleared Mezdrich and Kulyabin on March 10, saying there was no evidence they violated the law.
Mezdrich had directed the theater since 2011, and also from 2001-08.
Medinsky replaced Mezdrich with Vladimir Kekhman, director of the Mikhailovsky Theater in St Petersburg, who said the Tannhauser production was a “blasphemy” produced by “militant atheists”.
Medinsky denied that the Kremlin was the enforcement arm of the Russian Orthodox Church. He made his displeasure over the opera clear, however, saying that the director had made a mistake by not warning the community about what was coming and then not reacting to the outcry.
You have to explain what kind of a production this is, that it’s a new interpretation. You have to talk to people. Instead, their position was approximately: ‘You foolish priests and your henchmen don’t understand anything about art’.
Kekhman said that he would remain director of both theatres and the Novosibirsk theater will be renamed the Bolshoi Theater of Siberia.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn