Russia’s Ministry of Culture is to launch an inquiry into a controversial production of Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser performed at Novosibirsk’s Opera and Ballet theatre. The ministry has asked the theatre to change elements of the show and issue an apology to anyone offended. Last month, the theatre came under a hail of criticism after a senior Russian Orthodox cleric in Novosibirsk lodged a complaint with the regional government accusing the performance of “humiliating believers’ feelings and the Orthodox Church” and “inciting religious hatred”.
The performance, directed by Timofei Kulyabin, the theatre’s director, depicts a number of provocative biblical scenes, with one poster in the production featuring a figure of Jesus crucified between a woman’s legs. (This scene has since been removed from the production.)
“Without compromising creative freedom, we believe in the most daring interpretations of classical theatre and experimental scenes,” the Ministry of Culture wrote in a statement. “However, the theatre should not only warn its viewers about its unusual reading of classic works, but also try to explain the authors’ intent and what will happen on stage, to show respect to all sects of its audience; avoid productions capable of provoking a split in our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.”
Last week, Kulyabin won a victory after the case against him for publicly desecrating religious symbols was dismissed by the court. However, the prosecutor’s office has since announced its intention to appeal the decision.
Noted Russian cultural figures including artist Oleg Tabakov, theatre director Valery Fokin and actress Galina Volchek, have spoken out in defence of Kulyabin.
Russia made offending religious believers a criminal offence in 2013, after protest group Pussy Riot performed an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in 2012.