Opera boss sacked over Wagner production that offended Russian Orthodox Church

31 March 2015, 13:15 | Updated: 31 March 2015, 15:00

The Russian government has sacked an opera director over a controversial production of Wagner's Tannhauser, and is now considering new theatre censorship laws.

Boris Mezdrich - the director of the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre - has been sacked by the Russian government after his production of Wagner's Tannhauser caused an outcry from the country's Orthodox church.

The news came as demonstrators (pictured above) gathered in Novosibirsk, Siberia's largest city, to protest against the production. Thousands of people chanted outside the theatre, carrying banners with such slogans as 'Let’s defend our faith in Christ from sacrilege'.
Wagner's opera focusses on the struggle between sacred and profane love. The Novosibirsk opera production re-imagined the character of Tannhauser as a modern film director who makes the opera's temptation scenes into something endured by Jesus Christ. The show's advertising campaign also depicted a crucifix between a woman's naked, open legs:

The Russian Orthodox church has been increasingly involved in President Putin's denunciation of Western liberalism. He has recently made much of upholding traditional and religious values, passing a law that criminalises public acts that offend believers. 

The church took the opera company to court in February over the Tannhauser production but the case was thrown out earlier this month.

Despite this turn of events, President Putin awarded a state medal for 'service to the homeland' to the priest who has led the campaign against the production. 

The Russian government has now replaced Mezdrich with Vladimir Kekhman, director of the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St Petersburg, who will remain director of both theatres. He has publicly described the Tannhauser staging as "blasphemy" produced by "militant atheists". 

The classical music blog Slipped Disc has reported that the deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration has told state-controlled media that it will probably "be necessary at some stage to approve the repertoire, especially at state theatres. They should not be allowed to hurt the feelings of believers. We have no right to produce works that outrage part of the population and cause feelings of insult."