From house arrest, Russian director stages Germany opera

Kirill Serebrennikov is seen during the premiere of the movie "New Girlfriend" at Gogol Center in Moscow on Oct. 4, 2014. (Shutterstock image)
Updated 08 March 2019
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From house arrest, Russian director stages Germany opera

  • Kirill Serebrennikov new work deals with the anti-immigrant populism that flared amid Europe’s refugee crisis
  • A critic of Russian arts censorship, Serebrennikov has been placed under house arrest on fraud charges

HAMBURG, Germany: He’s under house arrest in Moscow without a phone or the Internet, yet Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov’s new opera is set to premiere in Germany on Sunday.
A modern take on Verdi’s Nabucco, the work at the Hamburg Opera deals with the anti-immigrant populism that flared amid Europe’s refugee crisis.
Serebrennikov, the enfant terrible of Russian theater, cinema and ballet, has been shuttered in his apartment for two years, accused of embezzlement in what his followers consider politically motivated charges.
But thanks to a dedicated lawyer and to Yevgeny Kulagin, a colleague and friend who became his co-director, he remotely directed the performance by sending instructions to the singers, costume and set designers.
To make the show possible, the team sent him daily video clips on USB data sticks of the rehearsals in Hamburg, which were delivered to his apartment.
There, Serebrennikov would respond by filming his own comments and sending them back the same way.
The exchange was unconventional, admits Geraldine Chauvet, who plays Fenena, the rebellious and compassionate daughter of the dictator Nabucco in the contemporary staging.
“It’s true that it’s quite strange to find yourself at each rehearsal sitting in front of a computer screen watching a video with the director’s notes,” she told AFP.
“But in the end everything worked out.”

Critic of Russian arts censorship
The famed director, a prominent critic of Russian arts censorship, is on trial for allegedly embezzling some $2 million in public funds and faces a lengthy prison term if convicted. He denies the charges.
Serebrennikov’s supporters believe his legal troubles were orchestrated because he has confronted sensitive political, societal and sexual themes that have run afoul of the orthodox conservatism dominant in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
His case has become a cause celebre in Western cultural circles, most recently at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where the artist was absent from the screening of his film “Leto.”
It was during the filming of this movie, a homage to Soviet rock, that he was arrested.
“I really think of him as a fighter for artistic freedom, for the freedom to be a free artist, to be able to express his art, his thoughts,” said Kulagin, the director’s chief partner in Hamburg.
“It’s not about confronting (Russian authorities), it’s simply about the artist’s need to continue working whatever the conditions.”
Nabucco is the third show which Serebrennikov has directed at a distance.
Kulagin however denies the label “dissident” for his friend, and he argues that the new version of Nabucco does not target the Kremlin in particular, nor Russian affairs.
Instead, he says, the opera deals with the powerful forces behind current conflicts such as the Syrian war and those lashing out in Europe and the United States against its victims, the refugees.

Ancient and modern-day despots
“These walls they are building, these human beings who are in conflict zones and are forced to flee their homeland, this is our Nabucco,” Kulagin says.
There are obvious references to Donald Trump’s “America First” motto and Putin’s United Russia party.
The Babylonian despot Nabucco is elected under the slogan “Assyria First” and his party is called “United Assyria.”
Instead of the Hebrews in Verdi’s work, it is the refugees who are persecuted.
“This is an allegory of the contemporary world,” says Georges Delnon, the artistic director of the Hamburg Opera, who initiated the project three weeks before the arrest of the director.
“Nabucco (...) hovers — feels, I would say — like a God. These are things that unfortunately we are experiencing in this world,” he said.
The performance shows the 2015 mass influx of refugees that sparked an upsurge of populist and Islamophobic anger in Europe.
On stage, two Syrians interpret traditional songs, breaking occasionally with the original opera.
Images show lines of migrants, the anti-Islam Pegida street marches in Dresden, Germany, and inflammatory headlines such as “All Refugees Are Foreign Invaders.”
Serebrennikov also includes 35 refugees in the “slave choir,” the high point of the opera, to sing “Oh, my country, so beautiful and lost!.”
“But it’s not about giving lessons, as Kirill says,” Kulagin told AFP. “We’re just raising questions, we’re not providing answers to contemporary problems.”


KSA’s Eastern Province residents welcome Sharqiah Season visitors from far and wide

Updated 19 March 2019
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KSA’s Eastern Province residents welcome Sharqiah Season visitors from far and wide

  • The Sharqiah Seasonfeatures over 80 events in cities acrossf the Kingdom's Eastern Province
  • Events in the upcoming weekends feature sports events as as well as concerts

RIYADH: Residents of the Eastern Province are no strangers to foreign visitors — the nation’s oil heartland has been welcoming them for years. But more have been arriving with the opening of Sharqiah Season, featuring over 80 events across the region’s cities.

Organized as a collaborative effort by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage alongside the General Entertainment Authority, the General Culture Authority and the General Sports Authority, it is the first of 11 scheduled festivals planned across the country in 2019.

Faisal Al-Rayisi, an employee at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, told Arab News he was surprised by the number of people arriving for the festival. 

“People are not only coming from Saudi Arabia, but from all over the Gulf as well — Kuwait and the UAE in particular,” he said. “I’ve even seen foreigners from Europe and Asia coming through. Time was, we used to go to Dubai for our entertainment, but now people from Dubai are coming to us.”

He also mentioned how happy he was to see the festivities coming to the Eastern Province. “Jeddah has this slogan, ‘Jeddah is different,’ but now that we’re seeing the first Sharqiah Season in our region, and all of these amazing activities and concerts are happening here, I think we can safely say ‘Sharqiah is different’ now.”

The Sharqiah festival aims to deliver an extensive entertainment experience for both Saudis and visitors to the Kingdom.

The festival features events in Eastern Province cities, including Dammam, Dhahran, Alkhobar, Al-Ahsa and Jubail. Future seasons will focus on different areas of Saudi Arabia, with different entertainment options for each city. Upcoming seasons will focus on different areas, and also different parts of the year, such as Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.

Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, said in a statement that  the organization’s participation in the festival aligns with its goal of improving the quality of life in the Kingdom, and discovering local talent in various entertainment industries.  

He also highlighted the importance of the entertainment sector and its contribution to the economy and the creation of jobs for locals, all important aspects of Vision 2030.

The opening night of Sharqiah Season on Thursday drew crowds of Saudis to the Alkhobar Corniche, despite strong winds and sprinklings of rain earlier in the day. Groups of friends stopping to take selfies and families with young children in tow wandered through the Entertainment Boulevard, lined with food stalls selling karak and koshari.

Earlier in the day, the mega event began with the opening of an exhibit featuring the work of Leonardo da Vinci at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra). 

The exhibit showcased some of Da Vinci’s original sketches, with several screens showing videos detailing how his designs have continued to inspire scientists and inventors in the modern era.

Sharqiah Season continues until March 30, with upcoming weekends featuring sports events such as the Red Bull Air Race and the Formula 1 H20 boat race, as well as concerts in Dammam featuring Akon, Deadmau5, Pitbull and French Montana.