SAINT PETERSBURG (AFP) – It might not be over until the fat lady sings but a patriotic opera in Russia’s second city of Saint Petersburg has attempted to cement Moscow’s disputed control over Crimea in music at least.
“Save us! Don’t abandon us!” a chorus of women and children appealed at the premiere of “Crimea”, a boisterous new work celebrating the Kremlin’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.
The opera traces Crimea’s history from the Crimean Wars of the 19th century right up to Russia’s seizure of the strategically important region in March.
The show, watched on Thursday by around 300 people, includes footage of Crimean residents joyfully voting in a referendum to become part of Russia.
It also depicts protests against now-ousted president Viktor Yanukovych in central Kiev that set in chain the events leading up the Kremlin’s Crimea grab, as well as archive footage from World War II.
The most recent footage shows the fighting between Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The production received a warm reception from the audience when it premiered Thursday at the small Saint Petersburg Opera Theatre in the city centre, reflecting widespread patriotic pride at Crimea’s takeover by Russia.
“The fact that Crimea returned to Russia is very important for us. We are proud of this and I liked the show,” said Pyotr Svyatoshov, a vice-admiral.
“I liked it. I was crying. I know what it means to survive the Siege (of Leningrad). I know what war is,” said 80-year-old Zinaida Afanasyeva.
– Crimea ‘a desirable trophy’ –
The bare-bones production at a little-known venue has no separate stage or curtain, with singers performing scenes from Crimea’s history in the centre of the auditorium.
“This opera is an encounter. We are in direct contact with the public,” said the director, Yuri Alexandrov.
One of the opera’s performers, a singer in a grey suit who provides a running commentary, sings: “Crimea was always a desirable trophy for its enemies.”
But the singer adds it is “impossible to conquer or to give it to anyone” — a reference to then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to hand the territory to his native Ukraine in 1954.
The opera is based on a rarely-performed Soviet opera dating from 1946 called “The People of Sevastopol”.
“I decided to deal with this topic because I could not stay silent when I saw what was happening in Ukraine,” said Alexandrov.
He insisted that the opera was not funded publicly but “with our own resources.”
“No one asked for or financed this show,” Alexandrov said, adding that all the profits would go to organisations that provide aid to Ukrainian refugees.