Russia: Creators of ‘offensive’ Wagner opera acquitted


Two men who went on trial in Russia on 4 March 2015 over their staging of Richard Wagner’s ‘Tannhauser’ opera, which a senior Orthodox cleric complained was offensive to religious believers, were acquitted in court on 10 March 2015.

One month after criminal proceedings launched into ‘blasphemous’ Tannhauser, officials rule production did not break any laws. Prosecutors said the modern-day staging, which fuelled anger among Orthodox Russians after it premiered in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk in December 2014, “desecrated” the image of Jesus Christ.

A complaint by a senior cleric had led to the charges being filed against the head of Novosibirsk’s State Opera and Ballet Theatre, Boris Mezdrich, and director, Timofei Kulyabin, who faced fines of up to 200,000 rubles ($3,243) if found guilty.

Bloomberg wrote:

“Unlike the members of punk group Pussy Riot, who were sentenced to prison terms for performing an anti-Putin song in Moscow’s main cathedral, Kulyabin and theater director Boris Mezdrich faced only fines or community service. Perhaps because of that, the case never made much of a splash internationally.

In Russia, however, the creative community noted it as a precedent. For the first time since the Soviet era, a theater performance was made the subject of a trial, and for the first time ever, a cleric of the highest rank was officially involved in a censorship attempt (in the Pussy Riot case, the Church had no official role in the complaint).

Today, the court cleared Mezdrich and Kulyabin of the charges after hearing from experts who testified that the Christ in the movie-within-the-opera-performance was not the Christ of the Gospels, just a character in a play.”
Leonid Bershidsky, BloombergView

Regardless of the outcome in court, according to Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky, the result will be “a self-censoring media, a cautious movie industry, a largely timid theater community.”

Read more:

» Bloomberg – 10 March 2015:
Russia Tries Cracking Down on Opera
“Richard Wagner’s Siberian scandal”

» GlobalPost / AFP – 4 March 2015:
Creators of ‘offensive’ Wagner opera on trial in Russia
“Two men went on trial in Russia on Wednesday over their staging of Richard Wagner’s “Tannhauser” opera, which a senior Orthodox cleric complained was offensive to religious believers.”

» The Siberian Times – 13 March 2015:
Court throws out claims Novosibirsk opera offended Orthodox believers
By Anna Liesowska and Derek Lambie