Just in: Russia fires opera boss over Tannhäuser church row

Just in: Russia fires opera boss over Tannhäuser church row


norman lebrecht

March 30, 2015

Varvara Turova reports:

Today, 29 March, the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Medinsky, announced that Boris Mezdrich had been fired from his position as Director of the Novosibirsk State Theatre of Opera and Ballet. The decision was taken in connection with Tannhäuser, an opera directed by Timofei Kuliabin. Mezdrich is succeeded by Vladimir Kekhman of Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

(See UPDATE at foot of page)

He will start work on 30 March and will combine work at two theatres. The new Director of Novosibirsk State Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Vladimir Kekhman, intends to rename the establishment which he took over today.
— “The first thing I will do (in the position of Director) is to give the Novosibirsk theatre back its historic name, the Grand Theatre of Siberia,” Kekhman said to Izvestia newspaper.

Kekhman spoke critically of the opera during the course of public hearings at the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. “My teacher, Elena Vasilievna Obrastsova, would often say, “I only sing because God gave me talent; without the Lord I am no one.” What was done at the Novosibirsk Opera Theatre is blasphemy. As a person of faith, someone who has been baptised, an Orthodox Christian believer, a Jew, I perceive this as offensive. It is a demonstration of inner wickedness in the style of the militant atheists of the Soviet period. I won’t hide the fact that I spoke to Mezdrich today and he told me that he is not going to give up this opera and will hold out to the end. My view is that he should resign and the opera should be pulled from the Theatre’s repertoire,” he said.

According to Taiga.info the General Director of Mikhailovsky theatre, Kekhman, will be presented to the staff at the theatre on 31 March. Previously the Novosibirsk diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church and members of the United Russia ruling party spoke out in favour of Mezdrich being fired.

Vladimir Kekhman founded one of the largest Russian companies specialising in the import of fruit from abroad.

At the end of 2014 he was accused of misappropriation of funds. He is also the holder of several awards from the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 2007 he was appointed General Director of Mikhailovsky Theatre and according to Delovoi Peterburg newspaper spent 500 million roubles (at the time approx. 20 million US dollars) on its restoration.

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.

The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation suggested that the leadership of the Theatre publicly apologise to “all those whose religious feelings had been injured” by the opera Tannhäuser. At a national level government officials announced that there would be an inspection of the finances of the Opera theatre in connection with a large number of requests regarding the sums used to finance the performance of Tannhäuser, the producer’s and actors’ fees.
tannhauser siberia
In an interview with Izvestia newspaper Boris Mezdrich said that it was today that he found out that he had been fired, on meeting the first deputy of the Ministry of Culture, Vladimir Aristarkhov, at the airport, the latter having flown in from Moscow.  While still at the airport the deputy minister handed Mezdrich the document ordering that his contract be terminated and Vladimir Kekhman be appointed as Director. “I am glad that I didn’t give into pressure and that I didn’t give up Tannhäuser. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to resist to the end and win. But I am grateful to all those who supported us: colleagues, members of the audience and the staff at the theatre. I think I have run my race and finished well,” said Boris Mezdrich in his interview.

UPDATE: Internationl opera director responds here.


  • Sasha says:

    Earlier on today, Deputy Chief of Staff of the President of Russia has suggested that the new productions funded from the state budget shall be ‘previewed’ by ‘expert community’ to avoid the situations like this in the future. This practice has been employed in the USSR, and one may suggest that this is exactly what censorship stands for.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Looks we will soon learn of the establishment of a “Reichskulturkammer” in Russia. Which famous musician will be its head, I wonder?

  • Michael Vaccaro says:

    A very good comment was deleted because it did not reflect the opinion of the editor. That is censorship and hypocrisy of the highest order. The comment defended Christians from such vicious attacks as in this bogus Tannhäuser.