Kirill Serebrennikov has been under house arrest, with no access to a phone or the internet for two years. But that hasn't stopped him from preparing to launch a modern take on Verdi's Nabucco in Hamburg on Sunday.
Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov's new opera will premiere in the German city of Hamburg on Sunday without the controversial dramatist, as he remains under house arrest in Moscow.
The film, ballet and theater director was confined to his house without phone or internet two years ago on charges that he and three colleagues embezzled around €1.8 million ($2 million) in public funds. He denies the allegations. Supporters have said his legal trouble is an attempt to silence an outspoken defender of freedom of expression.
In a reworking of Verdi's Nabucco, Serebrennikov's opera depicts the 2015 influx of refugees that sparked populism and Islamaphobic anger in Europe, including the anti-Islam Pegida street marches in Dresden.
He transposed the biblical story of the Hebrews in Babylon to the United Nations in New York. The production also takes aim at a rise in nationalism, with the historical character Nabucco elected under the motto "Assyria First."
Serebrennikov directed the production of the work by exchanging filmed rehearsals and his comments via USB data sticks.
Thirty-five refugees have been hired to play as part of the biblical "slave choir."
While actors from Serebrennikov's film "Leto" attended the opening, he was under house arrest in Moscow
All tickets for the first season sold out early, but a second season has been slated for September.
Nabucco is the third work Serebrennikov has directed from a distance. His 2018 film Leto also opened at the Cannes festival without him.
Serebrennikov's work often deals with sensitive topics such as homosexuality and the power of the church, running counter to ideas of a homogenous Russia dominated by orthodox conservatism.