Russia’s Culture Minister Fires Theater Director For Staging Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser”

Bayreuth, Festspiele, "Tannhäuser", SchlussRussia’s culture minister Vladimir Medinsky on Sunday fired the director of a Siberian theater. Boris Mezdrich as director of the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theater had committed the sin of staging Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser” which offended the powerful Russian Orthodox Church. It is the latest example of the rollback on free speech under the Putin regime.

225px-Vladimir_Putin_official_portraitOrthodox Christians protested the production in Siberia as offensive to the Orthodox Christianity and reflecting the values of a decadent West. They appropriately waived pictures of President Vladimir Putin who, as we have previously discussed, made the Church a major ally in his consolidation of power.

The modern production of “Tannhauser” has been defended by Russian artists and intellectuals, but Putin’s government has shown little patience or interest in artistic or political freedom.

Medinsky replaced Mezdrich with Vladimir Kekhman, director of the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

Source: Yahoo

55 thoughts on “Russia’s Culture Minister Fires Theater Director For Staging Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser””

  1. SJ – I agree completely. I hate it when directors monkey around with Shakespeare or classical drama and try to be “cutting edge” or “modernize it” because they want to be shocking or because they are bored with doing the same old, same old. They may be bored, but many in the audience rarely see a classical drama or Opera and we want it done straight.

    1. rcocean – I have nothing against cutting edge productions. Some come off well and some don’t. I have seen some Shakespeare productions that I am sure have poor Will spinning in his grave. 😉

  2. There is one other thing that bothers me. When the ‘Nazi’ production of Tannhauser was closed because it offended the Jewish community, no one complained or screamed religious censorship. When someone from the Christian community complains about this specific Tannhauser, and it is closed, it is censorship and destruction of artistic values, etc. In other words, it doesn’t matter if someone who is Christian is offended, but it does if other religions are offended. That doesn’t seem to be quite right, to me.

  3. Max-1: Opera is not like theater. At the most, a specific production will be performed maybe every 4 days. Singers need time to rest. I’m trying to figure out if it is an actual production or a film. It looks like a stage production. If so, I will guarantee it has not been performed each and every week since December. Opera is not like that.

    I don’t give a rip about the censorship, religious aspects of the production, or ‘artistic’ freedom. If you know anything about opera, and obviously you do not, you will understand that, these days, it is NOT about the singer, but the producer and artistic director who climb all over themselves to create increasingly disgusting productions – for headlines. This is what this is. It’s not about opera, it is about some narcissist screaming censorship over a production which is disgusting.

    The only reason anyone is screaming about this specific production is that we’re being told that Putin is nothing but pure evil, and we are to march, lock-step into supporting Ukraine and its increasingly neo-Nazi military. Sorry, I don’t give a damn. I love my opera. I find productions like this disgusting. By screaming artistic freedom, it tells me you have no idea what is going on in the operatic world.

  4. Tannhäuser has been showing at the Opera theatre since December 2014. Timofei Kuliabin transposed Wagner’s opera to the present day, casting the knight, Heinrich Tannhäuser, as a film director. The poster for the film “Venus’ grotto” created by the character in the performance, portraying a man being crucified – reminiscent of Jesus Christ – between the legs of a naked woman, was found disturbing by Orthodox Christian activists, many of whom admit that they have not seen the performance. The public court of law did not find any signs of injury to religious symbols – See more at:

  5. It’s art… you either like it or don’t. But it’s art none the less.
    Art is an expression, a language, and emotion, it speaks.

  6. Paul Schulte: I listened to “Don Carlo” last week. I love the opera. I’m a baritone junkie. They’re getting a large revenue stream from the Live in HD, also the Met on Demand, which is incredibly impressive. Getting big bucks from Sirius. On of the problems is donations are done because they are now refusing small donors, under a hundred bucks. That alone is a disaster. Remember that Gelb is the one who nearly destroyed Sony’s classical branch. He is there simply because of the fact that he is the god-son of Horowitz, and his father was the editor of the NYTimes. People are finally starting to speak out about his modern productions and his risky new operas which aren’t even filling half the seats. Then again, I’m like you, a big fan of Jimmy.

    Something rather fascinating is the Santa Fe Opera. A couple years ago they needed to do a major fund-raising campaign to do much needed repairs and additions. They raised the money in record time – something like $25million. Evidently people are diverting their money from Gelb, and putting it in places like Santa Fe, which is threatening to become one of the leading opera companies in the country.

    Gelb is not booking and using the big guns. Why bother spending a couple hundred dollars on a miserable performance, visually insulting, with ‘rookies’ and people who should never even be at the Met. When Jimmy was running things, there was a super-star, a world-class voice every night, and usually several in every production. Gelb appears to have his favorites, and they aren’t that good. He is not scheduling rising stars as quickly as he should. Jimmy always left TBA spots in productions, to put someone in who was going to create a buzz.

    The state of opera in this country is amazing. There are so many incredible young voices, you can go to any regional or even local performance and get very very good opera. I like to think of it like baseball, with the locals like A ball, the regionals like AA, and larger companies like Santa Fe like AAA. They’re pulling AAA quality singers in regional, and Gelb’s bring in AA quality to the Met, charging like he is bring in a super-star. He’s doing it to save money. The big guns get big money. The little guys don’t. But, in trying to save money, he’s losing a fortune.

    At least he hasn’t dumped the Met’s legendary ‘Tannhauser’ production – yet.

    1. SJ Reidhead – sometimes you get a board who hires someone and charges them with shaking up the organization. That may have happened here. So the fault is with the board and not Gelb. Then again, Gelb may be screwing the pooch.

  7. As an opera purist, GOOD RIDDANCE! I am sick and tired of productions like that. I don’t care what the country is, or who complained, it is getting out of hand, and ruining opera. ‘Tannhauser’ is one of my favorite operas. It is about a real, historic figure and a specific time in history. It is not about anything modern. It is a fantastical version of a historic moment in time.

    Opera is NOT about the performance, or the director, or the production. It is about the voice. Unfortunately, these days, it is all about the shock value of the production, with singers being put in almost degrading productions, some of them so bad it nearly destroys careers. The way contracts are written, if a person withdraws from a production, they will have their careers ruined. Ironically, one of the few super-stars today, who has it written into his contract, that he has a right to withdraw from a production if he doesn’t approve is the Siberian legend, Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

    Other stars don’t care and will appear in anything. It is hurting their careers and their reputations. There was a production of ‘Tannhauser’, last summer, which was so bad, the audience almost forced it to close. You can’t blame it on Putin, the church, or censorship – it was that vile. But, those who were ignorant about opera screamed censorship. It wasn’t.

    It’s nice for people who know nothing about opera to wax poetic about freedom of expression, censorship, and show how important they are, but don’t even know what it’s all about. It hurts to see something as magnificent as ‘Tannhauser’ perverted for so-called artistic freedom, which has nothing to do with artistic, and everything to do with pushing the envelope.

    Maybe you might want to think about the singers, and what they are required to do by contract. Unless you are a Hvorostovsky or a Fleming, of a Kauffman, you’re stuck. The beauty of a story is stripped, singers are degraded, and the ‘talented’ artistic jerk who creates a repulsive stage production is proclaimed heroic. Sorry, that’s just plain wrong.

    This has NOTHING to do with freedom or censorship. It’s time someone starts pulling the plug on productions like this, before the entire genera is rendered unwatchable. Productions like these are also losers, financially. If you want to know the true value of ‘artistic’ and modern productions, look at the debacle Peter Gelb has created at the Met. His creative productions now fill an average of 70% of the seats in the house. Before he was hired as general manager, when James Levine was in charge, they had an average of 90% of their seats filled.

    You pull the plug on a loser – or should.

    1. SJ Reidhead – when James Levine was directing the Met, I think it was still getting both tv and radio money. Now it is just radio money and from just a few classical stations. I am a great fan of Levine, not so much Gelb, although last week’s opera was very nice (only heard the tail-end).

  8. Chinggis think ponacrates wrong to insult Siberia. Chinggis’ ancestors had good time in Siberia. Nice gers (gers same as yurts). Lots of yaks. Lots of sheep. If go to Siberia and live , Siberia grow on ewe.

  9. rcocean, Trusting McCain w/ the bomb more than Putin is damning w/ faint praise.

  10. “When I hear Wagner I can’t help but think of the great Robert Duvall blaring Wagner as he led a helicopter attack,”

    Yes, that was great cinema, probably the best scene in the movie. As for Putin, I don’t think he’s dangerous at all, if we keep our noses out of Russia’s business – like we do with China. I can remember Johnny McCain running around screeching “We are all Georgians Now!” when Russia had a border dispute with Georgia. I’d trust Putin with an H-bomb more than Johnny McCain.

    1. rcocean – I do not trust McCain either. It appears that he will be primaried, so I am going to have to kick in some money and then vote.

  11. @PaulCS

    I will look that up. My father has a set of Ring records, the Fartwanker (???) one or something like that, but that one was pretty old. Anymore you can see just about any opera on youtube, which is great.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky – you are going to want to get these in HD if possible and with the best sound possible.

  12. @PaulCS

    Well, I bet you feel something from all the carrying on down there in Venusburg! I would post some really kewl images here, but since this is mostly a G-rated place, I will respect that. Sooo, here is a tame one, from a Nazi version of Tannhauser done in 2013:

    Gee, amazing all the stuff that you can do with Venus, and an oversexed Knight kind of story…Hmmm. I wonder if that would work for the Bulwer-Lytton competition:

    It was a dark and horny Knight. . .

    Oh, I digress. Here’s the link to the above picture:!/story/293018-nazi-emtannhauserem-renews-debate-over-radical-opera-stagings/

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky – the Met did a great Ring Cycle about 25 years if you can get ahold of it. Really stunning. About 20 hours of music. 🙂 Well staged and costumed.

  13. RCocean, Putin is a threat to the world, which of course includes the US. The most dangerous man in the world, IMO. However, I do agree totally w/ you about the attack on our First Amendment from within our country. This Wagner issue is very small potatoes. When I hear Wagner I can’t help but think of the great Robert Duvall blaring Wagner as he led a helicopter attack, “Scares the hell outta the slopes.”

  14. Oh plus, as for unintended side effects, I watched this old timey TV show called Car 54 Where Are You??? – There is this one episode that might apply to this. I start with part 1, where Toody and Muldoon are trying to find a proper sort of Broadway show for the cops and their wives to go see. Parts 2, 3 and 4 are on the right side and it is hilarious when they all go to check out the show, Little Miss Pioneer. . .

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky – I like Tannhauser, but I am not sure I would fell redeemed having nekkid people running around.

  15. Poncrates and Paul

    Firstly, this deals with ‘free speech’ on the perimeter if not on the other side of the podium. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra does not represent the Canadian people unless of course the Canadian people are against what the Russians are doing. If you read the article you will see that Lisitsa is speaking out in favor of what he Russians are doing and against the Ukrainian government. In any event, there is an argument to be made for allowing celebrities to present their political positions through events such as this and allow the audience to ignore, boo, or cheer. Personally I like my music to stand alone.

    You guys seem to jump at any and every opportunity to make a point. So, what is your point? Should advocates of your enemies be able to use these public events to promote their political positions or not, or only if you agree with their positions. Or, should the public be allowed to enjoy music for music’s sake without the attachments of political trappings.

    The difference here, after researching the issue, is that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra acted against having a political statement being made while playing with their musicians. In Lower Slobblovia, the government stepped in to censure what it perceived as something offensive to the nation, now a nation resurrecting its religious heritage.

    Neither instance resembles free speech as it is so often idealized but more as it is so often wielded, good as long as it suits one opinion over another or simply an impossible to win argument given the idealistic impossibility of being able to say whatever where ever.

    I neither applaud the Russian act or that of the TSO. However they can only be condemned from that safe perch of ideological perfection. Don’t see any of that here.


    Lisitsa, an ethnic Russian born in Ukraine who has lived in the United States and Paris, said she has been speaking out against the “atrocities” of the civil war, particularly those committed against the Russian minority in the country’s eastern and southern regions.

    Lisitsa wrote about the people of Ukraine “raising in fury against their corrupt rulers.” But she said “the ruling class doesn’t let go easily” and the “same rich people” remain in power amid misery and poverty, thousands of deaths and over a million refugees.

    Who will be the first to start off a rebuttal with , “Oh, so you’re saying…..”?

    1. issac – free speech is free speech regardless of where it is. I would not have staged Tannhauser that way, nor would I have gone to see it done that way, but I would not stop the director doing it that way.
      The same with Toronto. If their artist wishes to involve themselves politically, that is on them. I know that reflects back on the Toronto Symphony, but so does their choice of music. If they want to silence the artists, put a rider in their contracts saying they cannot get involved politically until the performance is over and they can pay them more for their silence.

  16. WIth all the threats to free speech in the USA, I’m supposed to care about Russia not allowing a Wanger Opera? And what’s this obsession with Putin? The man hasn’t endangered the USA. Some people just want to search for enemies.

    1. Rcocean – you have not be following the stuff about Russian jets off our coasts? I worry a lot about Putin. I am not so worried about Tannhauser except that it shows a trend.

  17. Well my goodness. This article didn’t make a bit of sense if you know the story of Tannhauser, and his return to the church at the end. Plus, Wagner is not taboo or anything in Russia. Sooo, like a good little girl reporter, I dug a little deeper, and Mezdrich wasn’t sacked for staging Tannhauser but for his new interpretation of the opera, to wit:

    “You have to explain what kind of a production this is, that it’s a new interpretation,” Mr. Medinsky said. “You have to talk to people. Instead, their position was approximately: ‘You foolish priests and your henchmen don’t understand anything about art.’ ”

    Wagner’s circa 1845 opera focuses on a hero who is initially tempted by Venus and her entourage, but is eventually drawn back to the Roman Catholic Church.

    The Novosibirsk version imagines Tannhauser as a modern film director who makes the temptation of Venus something that Jesus Christ endures. Perhaps the most controversial element was the poster for the would-be film, which shows a crucifix between the naked, open legs of a woman.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

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