Ministry of Culture to investigate the opera A Midsummer Night's Dream

Source: HRO.org (info), 25/05/12

· Artistic freedom  · Moscow city & Moscow region

Children's Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov has written to Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky asking him to investigate reports of scenes of depravity in Benjamin Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream, staged by Christopher Alden at the Stanislavsky Music Theatre.

"It is difficult to judge the production without seeing it but since we have been notified by the parents, we have to respond. I am confident that the new Minister of Culture Vladimir Rostislavovich Medinsky will be able to look into this issue and take the best possible decision," the Interfax press agency reported Astakhov as saying.

If the allegations reported in the parents' letter are confirmed, "the participation of under-age children in this kind of event contradicts the spirit and letter of Russia's legislation as well as the Russian Federation's international obligations relating to the protection of children's moral and mental health," according to the press release from Astakhov's press office.

According to Grani.ru, the parents of the children involved in the production complained to Astakhov as well as to Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Synod's Department of Relations between the Church and Society. The parents claim that the play's second and third acts are rife with depraved scenes of seduction and enticement to sex, oral fondling of genitals, acts of masturbation, and sado-masochism, and promote the use of alcohol and drugs, swearing and urination on stage." "The production features a boy who has been raped by a paedophile teacher at school. After smoking a marijuana cigarette he is plunged into a dream and a flashback," states the parents' letter.

The cast of the production, scheduled to open on 10 June, includes the Moscow Capella Choir under choirmaster Viktoria Smirnova. The children involved are between the ages of 6 and 14.

In an explanation posted on the theatre's website the management points out that the production was featured during London's English National Opera's past season and was nominated for the prestigious Olivier Award as one of the best shows of the previous year. "As we embarked on the staging, we were aware of our responsibility and warned parents that the production would include several rather risqué scenes... Following a meeting with the theatre management the parents of all the children had an opportunity to view a video recording of the English production, in order to decide whether their child should appear in the production or not," says an open letter from the theatre management.

In an interview with the paper Komsomolskaya Pravda the theatre's artistic director Alexander Titel stressed that the parents of all the children involved in the production had "taken the informed decision that they did not in fact see any danger [in the production], or that they preferred their children to find out that people smoke, drink and have sex in the theatre rather than in the street."

The theatre further pointed out that the Moscow government Department of Culture had received an identical complaint signed by one Svetlana Khasanova, even though there is no such person among the parents of children involved in the production.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the most acclaimed works by the distinguished British composer Benjamin Britten. Since it first opened at the Aldeburgh Festival on 11 June 1960 it has been staged in the Netherlands and in Italy's famous La Scala theatre. The Russian premiere took place at the Bolshoi Theatre on 28 October 1965, starring Elena Obraztsova and Aleksandr Ognivtsev.
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