MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's culture minister on Sunday fired the director of a Siberian theater whose modern staging of Wagner's opera "Tannhauser" offended the powerful Russian Orthodox Church.
The announcement was made as several thousand people rallied outside the Novosibirsk theater to protest the opera, which they said was offensive to Christians and reflected the values of a decadent West.
"Orthodox Christianity is the foundation of the great Russian culture," said one of the signs held by the protesters in Novosibirsk, a city of 1.5 million and the third-largest in Russia.
They waved patriotic flags, including some with a picture of President Vladimir Putin imposed upon the Russian tricolor and others in the orange and black stripes of the St. George ribbon. Long associated with commemorations of the victory in World War II, the ribbon is now worn to express support for the Russia-backed separatists fighting in Ukraine.
The Russian Orthodox Church has played an active part in Putin's efforts to consolidate Russian society by appealing to what are described as traditional Russian values as opposed to the liberalism of the West.
As the controversy over "Tannhauser" grew in recent weeks, many Russian cultural figures spoke out in defense of the theater's interpretation of Richard Wagner's 19th century opera.
But on Sunday, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky fired Boris Mezdrich as director of the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theater, a position he held in 2001-2008 and since his reappointment in 2011.
Medinsky replaced him with Vladimir Kekhman, director of the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Kekhman told the state news agency Tass that he would remain director of both theaters.