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Court throws out claims Novosibirsk opera offended Orthodox believers

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13 March 2015


Wagner's famous opera Tannhauser had opened at Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre in December and the complaint centred on the violation of the 'rights of believers'. Picture: Viktor Dmitriev 

A court has thrown out allegations that a production of Tannhauser held in Novosibirsk was blasphemous and offended the Russian Orthodox Church.

In a case that was being closely monitored around the world, charges had been brought against the director of the show and the director of the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre following a complaint from a senior cleric.

Metropolitan Tikhon, the head of the Orthodox Church in the region, had claimed award-winning director Timofei Kulyabin had 'publicly desecrated the object of religious worship in Christianity – the image of Jesus Christ in the Gospels'.

He said the opera had offended believers and even compared the offence it caused to the recent Charlie Hebdo cartoons in France.

Kulyabin and theatre director Boris Mezdrich had been facing the prospect of a fine of up to 200,000 roubles ($3,165) or even a jail sentence had they been convicted.

But on March 10, Novosibirsk court dismissed the charges and said no crime had been committed. The news was welcomed by human rights campaigners who said the case had been a 'court drama worthy of a theatre production itself'.

Timofey Kulyabin


Award-winning director Timofei Kulyabin. The scene from the opera Tannhauser held in Novosibirsk. Pictures: Frol Podlesny, Viktor Dmitriev/Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre

Writing on the Human Rights Watch organisation's website, Russia researcher Tanya Cooper said: 'Russian people should be able to discuss the artistic merits of Tannhauser. But this discussion should be through open public debate and does not belong in the courtroom.

'By using the law meant to prosecute infringements on religious freedom, the authorities send an unambiguous message that any Russian artist can be targeted if their creative work rubs someone the wrong way.'

The criminal proceedings were initiated in February after the Metropolitan sent a complaint about the production to the Prosecutor's Office and Regional Legislative Assembly.

Wagner's famous opera Tannhauser had opened at Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre in December and the complaint centred on the violation of the 'rights of believers'.

First performed in 1845, it is about a hero who falls for the charms of Venus but eventually returns to the Catholic Church. However, Kulyabin's production shifts the action to the present day, making Tannhauser a film director.

Following news of the criminal proceedings the 30-year-old director, who won Russia’s prestigious Golden Mask award last year, said it was 'absurd'.

He added: 'I just have a sense of deep incomprehension.'

Metropolitan Tikhon

Against Tannhauser

Against Marilyn Manson

Metropolitan Tikhon, the head of the Orthodox Church in the Novosibirsk region. Rallies against Tannhauser and Marilyn Manson concerts. Pictures: pravmir, Alexander Oshchepkov

Earlier this month, Orthodox activists held a rally calling for the theatre director to lose his job, along with the head of the City Department of Culture and the Minister of Culture of the Novosibirsk region. 

However, prominent Russian directors Oleg Tabakov and Mark Zakharov, and a host of other artists and public figures, had written letters in support of the Opera. 

In the past, Orthodox believers have also disrupted a performance of the Polish heavy metal band Behemoth, while Marilyn Manson and Cradle of Filth concerts due to be held in Novosibirsk were also cancelled following pressure from activists.

The latest case came three years after a similar probe against the Pussy Riot punks, who were sentenced to two years for 'hooliganism', and offending believers, after a performance in a Moscow church.

Comments (1)

In todays perverted humanistic world freedom of speech and expression means freedom to offend and to hurt other people. I am seeking to make sense of the lack of cooperation displayed by humans in today world, philosophers like to expand on selfishness it turms of human relation and theologist speak of the ego. I say they are both root of todays problem.
Lazar, Moscow
14/03/2015 05:18

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