The opera's libretto, written by Vladimir Sorokin, is about a Nazi geneticist who clones Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Mussorgsky, and Verdi for his own amusement. Each of the opera's five acts refers to the work of the five composers. The opera's other characters include a prostitute, a pimp, and a nurse.
Rosenthal's Children was composed by Leonid Desyatnikov, and the production was staged by Lithuanian director Eimuntas Nekrosius.
Duma deputy Sergei Neverov initiated the investigation of the work, telling the Duma's members, "We should prevent the staging of Mr. Sorokin's vulgar plays in the theater which is a symbol of Russian culture. Otherwise, this pornography will be discussed all over Russia."
Neverov admitted, however, that he had not yet read Rosenthal's Children.
According to the London Guardian, Bolshoi officials are furious. Anatoly Iksanov, the theater's general director, recalled the Soviet crackdown on writers in the 1930s. "To what times are we returning?" he asked. "Even in the darkest Soviet years, those who were tasked with controlling the creative arts had at least read or seen what they were passing a verdict on."
Since the theater is funded by the state, pressure to cancel the production could be brought to bear. Iskanov said, however, "The theater will decide itself what it puts on."
Sorokin, who holds that his work is "high tragedy" rather than pornography, told the Guardian, "All this in parliament is simply a manifestation of savagery and ignorance. It's an attempt at censorship that could the first step in a wider campaign."
Neverov denied the investigation had anything to do with censorship, saying the opera could be performed somewhere else.
Sorokin is no stranger to controversy. In 2002, he was prosecuted on pornography charges for his 1999 book Blue Lard, which depicted a gay liaison between Stalin and Khrushchev, but the trial was eventually stopped because there was no evidence of a crime.