Residents of Novosibirsk informed local authorities yesterday of a rally in defence of creative freedom scheduled for 5 April in Novosibirsk’s Lenin Square. The move comes amid an ongoing investigation into a controversial production of Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser staged at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre. The production, which features a number of provocative biblical scenes, was slammed by a senior Russian Orthodox cleric in Novosibirsk as “humiliating believers’ feelings and the Orthodox Church”.
“‘Orthodox activists’ have gained huge successes in the field of cultural embargos,” rally organisers wrote on the event’s Facebook page. “First, they forbade the Picasso and Motherland exhibitions, then they moved to rock concerts, and now they are imposing their will on the Opera House. They fill our city square, picketing, rallying, showing everyone that they are Novosibirsk. We don’t exist to them.”
Charges brought against the director of the performance, Timofei Kulyabin, were dropped in court last week, however an inquiry into the performance has since been launched by Russia’s Ministry of Culture. In a statement, the ministry called on the theatre to change elements of the production and issue an apology to anyone offended by the performance.
Organisers of the rally warned that Novosibirsk, “a city of science, culture and universities in the eyes of Russia and the rest of the world” has been turned “into a capital of radicalism and prohibitions. Is that really so? Are [Orthodox activists] really Novosibirsk?”.
Also yesterday, an open letter from Novosibirsk’s creative community was sent to Vladimir Gorodetsky, the Governor of Novosibirsk, appealing to him to protect the arts from the pressures of the Church. “The situation with Tannhäuser, no matter how sad to admit it, puts Novosibirsk in a ridiculous light… Instead of criticism, debate and controversy, which are natural and inalienable components of the existence of a work of art, there is a trial,” the open letter reads.
“Many people are beginning to see each other as enemies — and this is a very alarming phenomenon. Take, for example, a tremendous increase in the thirst for denunciations, the ‘letter of complaint’ about the performances to the mayor, the governor, the Minister of Culture… Two years ago, jokes about Orthodox activists coming into the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre seemed like black humour, but today it has become reality.”
Among the nearly 50 signatories of the letter are Alexei Kriklivy, director of the Globe theatre, Andrey Shapovaloa, director of the Novosibirsk State Museum of Local History and Yury Shatin, professor at Novosibirsk State University.