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© Ismene Brown 2017

'Blasphemous' Tannhäuser wins popular award

08 DEC 15  

A Russian production of Wagner's opera Tannhaüser which was accused by the Russian Orthodox Church of blasphemy, and caused the sacking of the theatre's director and the destruction of its sets, won a popular vote in a prominent theatre awards ceremony run by two Russian newspapers last night.

Since the online voting was joined allegedly by 60,000 voters from 91 countries - and only 7,000 people actually saw the opera - it might be better considered as a protest vote against church censorship of arts in Russia.

All the same, the extent of Russian newspaper coverage implies an approval of this international demonstration against a perception of today's Russia as being increasingly dogmatic and conservative, even repressive of wild arts gestures like the Tannhäuser, which drew fire primarily for its brief showing of a poster with Christ crucified propped up in a naked woman's groin.

The producer argued that his setting of the opera's story within a critique of the film and media industry made this a perfectly integrated element. However, the powerful Orthodox Church tore into it, and now - despite a moral victory in the courts against the oppressors of free expression - this Tannhäuser is no more, obliterated by the incoming director, the government loyalist Vladimir Kekhman, former banana king, bankrupt, and Mikhailovsky Opera/Ballet supremo.

Here's one of the news reports.

Opera staging accused of insulting believers gets people's vote

Kommersant, 8 December 2015, by Rita Rusakova

Last night the Star Theatre-goer awards ceremony was held at the Vakhtangov Theatre - and awarded the price for Best Musical Performance of the Year to the Tannhäuser staging at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre, which was removed from its repertoire.

The award was accepted by Boris Mezdrich, former director of the Novosibirsk Theatre. “One might call this a rehabilitation for the production,” remarked Mr Mezdrich. “Some 60,000 people voted in 91 countries, while Tannhäuser itself was actually seen by some 7,000. So this is more of a reputational judgement of our work on the production.”

To recap, in February Tannhäuser, premiered the previous December, was accused by the Metropolitan Tikhon of Novosibirsk and Berdsk of insulting the feelings of believers. The prosecutor’s office filed a case citing “desecration of religious items” against the theatre’s general director Boris Mezdrich and the production’s director Timofei Kulyabin, but the judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence of crime. Notwithstanding, Boris Mezdrich was dismissed from his position, and Vladimir Kekhman, director of the Mikhailovsky Theatre, was installed in his place - who took the production out of repertoire.

On receiving his Star Theatre-Goer award, Mezdrich added that he would give it to the town’s museum, until “we have a different era at the opera house”.

The ex-director  was also nominated for the award for “Best Theatre Director” along with the Bolshoi Theatre general director Vladimir Urin and the Vakhtangov Theatre’s director Kirill Krok, who was chosen as the winner.

The "Star Theatre-goer" awards were established in 2008 by the editors of Teatral magazine and the newspaper Novye Izvestiya, and are unique in not allowing any interference by the professional theatre community in the awarding of the prizes. Over the year any audience-member can go to the site of the above publications and put forward their nominations, on which the site’s visitors vote during the year. This time round the voting, which closed on 3 December, produced a record number of spectators; almost 60,000 people from 91 countries.