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St. Petersburg Composer's Opera Incites Violence

A violent attack on a local composer is the latest in a series of incidents targeting his most recent composition.

Published: August 27, 2014 (Issue # 1826)



  • Ilya Demutsky has been under attack for his new opera ‘New Jerusalem,’ about a group of hunters who search for pedophiles.
    Photo: Sergey Chernov / SPT

According to Demutsky, his new opera deals with a group of hunters for pedophiles — not unlike the one led by extreme nationalist Maxim Martsinkevich, also known as “Tesak” (Hatchet or Hand Axe), who was sentenced to five years for inciting ethnic hatred in Moscow on Aug. 18. Called “Occupy Pedophilia,” Martsinkevich’s group reportedly lured people via fake accounts, set appointments and then tortured and humiliated them on video. The group was reported to also target LGBT people as well.

“I did not study the subject and did not watch the videos because they’re revolting and not interesting to me — I only used a literary text, the libretto,” Demutsky said.

“Tesak could probably be seen as the prototype for the main character, but the meaning of the opera is that a hunter for pedophiles kills a pedophile during one of his hunts, and then I raise philosophical, religious, moral and aesthetic issues. Does he have the right to do this? Even if we understand perfectly that pedophilia is a crime, that it is disgusting, does he still have the right to kill a person in the name of some higher purpose? That’s what the opera is about.”

According to Demutsky, the controversy and pressure was caused by the phrase “hunters for pedophiles,” which was used to describe the opera’s subject, rather than the its actual content.

“There is almost no action. There is a brief murder scene in the beginning but without any flesh and blood,” he said.

“A pedophile is being burnt at the stake and dies singing, but what follows is a dialogue between God and the hunter, where God asks, ‘Did you have the right to do this in My name? Who do you think you are, a doctor or inquisitor?’ We try to deal with these kind of questions.”

Demutsky said poet and theater producer Suslov wrote to him on a social network and offered his libretto for a possible opera in late August 2013 after Demutsky had become known in the media following the success of “The Final Statement of the Accused.”

“Having read the libretto, I understood that it might be interesting on stage, especially because it was well written and dealt with difficult subjects, and I think such things have not yet been done in the opera scene,” Demutsky said.

“I thought it would be something innovative, not from the point of view of my work as a composer, but of the themes dealt with in the opera. It’s in classical form, written in the complex Russian language, in verse, but it has an absolutely contemporary plot. At the same time, it touches on philosophical, ethical and moral issues, and we embody it in music as an opera, with classical beautiful voices — in my style, with nothing avant-garde. So I agreed.”

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