Controversy over Timofej Kuljabin's “Tannhäuser” production in Novosibirsk

Controversy over Timofej Kuljabin's “Tannhäuser” production in Novosibirsk

In the soap opera for a “Tannhäuser” production, prosecutors, ministers and church people fight against artists, freedom and the modern. But it's not a reality show, it's Russia's reality.

News from Russia is usually bleak. Political murder is reported on one day, the next the Russian President brags on state television that he personally organized and directed the military attack on Ukraine and openly threatens the world with a nuclear strike. General Motors ceases production and sales of Opel and Chevrolet in Russia and cuts 16,000 jobs. But between recession and repression there must also be good news, after all, life goes on, Russia is a large cultural nation and does not only consist of Putin and his henchmen.

There is indeed good news to report. Richard Wagner's “Tannhauser” was staged at the State Opera in Novosibirsk, probably the most important opera house in Russia after the Moscow Bolshoi and St. Petersburg Mariinsky - a major event for the Russian opera world. Wagner is a rare guest on Russian opera stages. There were just four productions in the post-war Soviet Union, and serious post-Soviet productions can be counted on one hand. The much-celebrated young star Timofej Kuljabin, 30, directed the film in Novosibirsk. In his production, Heinrich Tannhäuser is a depressed film director who makes a flick about the early years of Jesus. His work, called "Venusgrotte", is presented at the Wartburg Film Festival and triggers a huge scandal; Tannhäuser is expelled - similar to Lars von Trier in Cannes. The few media that wrote about the new “Tannhäuser” production described it as the most important opera event of the season and a milestone in the Russian perception of Wagner.

The premiere took place on December 20, 2014, but the production only really became famous in February of this year. The Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Novosibirsk and Berdsk Tichon announced the director Kuljabin and the director Boris Mesdritsch: The staging violated the rights of the faithful and misused Christian symbols. This is punishable in secular Russia.

The influential churchman's reaction was not very surprising. As early as 2012, he mobilized his supporters against the exhibition of erotic lithographs by Picasso and demanded that they be closed immediately - with a lot of noise, but without success at that time. This time it turned out differently. The prosecutor initiated proceedings, found that there was an administrative offense, namely “willful public desecration of religious and liturgical literature and religious objects,” and brought the case to court. Meanwhile, thousands demonstrated in front of the opera house, conservative publicists raged in state and church media, Duma deputies even demanded imprisonment for wrongdoers. It was violent, but after the pussy riot process it looked almost like routine. The solidarity campaign, in which many prominent directors and artistic directors participated, was unusual, among them numerous representatives of the old Soviet theater nomenclature.

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