The New York Times reports that, this time around, Shostakovich (the centennial of whose birth is this year) has irked the diocese of the northern city of Syktyvkar. The local hierarchy is reportedly offended by the unflattering portrayal of the priest in The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda, an opera based on a fairy tale by Pushkin with a score by Shostakovich.
The opera is being staged by the State Theater of Opera and Ballet of the Republic of Komi, which, points out the Times, was a region infamous for its leading role in Stalin's gulag system. The protests resulted in all depiction of the priest being eliminated from the production, which debuted at the end of last month.
Pushkin's story was written in 1830 and recounts the story of a lazy priest who hires the workman Balda for one year at no pay. At the end of a year of work, Balda is allowed to hit the priest three times on the forehead. In short, the priest emerges the loser: Balda demonstrates his superiority and when, at the end of the year, he strikes the priest on the head, the clergyman loses his mind.
The Times reports that the Komi production stipulated that Balda should strike devils who owed the clergyman money, not the priest himself, but the local diocese still took offense.
The Komi Culture Ministry ended up advising the theater to cancel the opera; instead, the theater decided to eliminate the offending scenes, despite the fact that the excisions left the work with no coherent story.