Members of Pussy Riot sit in a glass-walled cage in a court in Moscow
Moscow - AFP
Russia on Tuesday accused the director of a production of a Richard Wagner opera of publicly offending the feelings of religious believers following a complaint from a senior Russian Orthodox cleric.
Thirty-year-old director Timofei Kulyabin told AFP he has been charged over his production of Wagner's "Tannhauser" at Novosibirsk's State Opera and Ballet Theatre in Siberia, which premiered in December.
"It's absurd and I don't want to take part in something absurd, to be honest," he said.
"I just have a sense of deep incomprehension."
Prosecutors said the director, who last year won Russia's prestigious Golden Mask award, "publicly desecrated the object of religious worship in Christianity -- the image of Jesus Christ in the Gospels",
The administrative offence carries a maximum fine of 200,000 rubles ($3,165) for an official.
The case comes three years after a probe against the Pussy Riot punks who were sentenced to two years for "hooliganism", specifically offending believers, after a performance in a Moscow church.
The case against the opera was opened after a senior Orthodox cleric, the Metropolitan of Novosibirsk, Tikhon, told the prosecutors that he had received complaints from offended believers.
"I wrote (to prosecutors) that Tannhauser breaches the rights of believers....Believers are offended, so to say," Tikhon said at a news conference this month.
"I don't want to and I cannot understand the system of values of Orthodox activists," Kulyabin said. "They have nothing to do with theatre."
He said that he and the theatre's director, Boris Mezdrich, had been summoned by prosecutors several days ago to give statements.
Kulyabin said he feared a court could order that the offending scenes be cut or the production could be removed from the theatre's repertoire.
"It just depends on the level of their imagination," he said.
After the Pussy Riot case, Russia in 2013 introduced a new criminal offence -- carrying out public acts that offend believers -- which carries a jail sentence of up to three years. It is unclear how this differs from the "administrative" misdemeanour.
Wagner's opera, first performed in 1845, is about a hero who falls for the charms of Venus but eventually returns to the Catholic Church.
Kulyabin's production shifts the action to the present day, making Tannhauser a film director, which the director said is "fairly radical".