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Russians Confess They Want to See Madonna

The Orthodox Church's condemnation of the pop singer seems only to add to the hoopla. Fans buy 37,000 concert tickets in three days.

September 11, 2006|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — In the eyes of Tatyana Myasoyedova, a pensioner who joined a recent protest against a Madonna concert set for Tuesday night, the pop icon's first performance in Russia is part of a plot against her nation.

"The United States first destroyed our great country, the Soviet Union, then they destroyed our economy and now they are sending this horrible young woman to destroy our souls," said Myasoyedova, interviewed during a recent rally of about 100 demonstrators organized by the Orthodox Standard Bearers Union, a group combining religion and nationalism.

Angered by a controversial scene in Madonna's worldwide "Confessions" tour in which she sings "Live to Tell" while suspended on a mirrored cross, the Russian Orthodox Church and its most active supporters have bitterly condemned the show and warned believers not to go. But their words have had little deterrent effect.

"The use of the cross is not merely an advertising stunt, though this is indisputably one of her motives. It is an indication of a person's spiritual problems," Orthodox spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin told the Russian news agency Interfax a few days before ticket sales began. "Of course, it would be more than strange for an Orthodox person to give the spiritual problems of this singer greater publicity by attending her concerts."

The most visible effect of the church's attacks on the 48-year-old singer has been to boost a wave of hoopla surrounding the show. It swiftly sold out and has been rescheduled at a bigger, 52,000-seat venue.

"It doesn't matter what some religious activists say about her," said Ivan Stolyarenko, 20, an economics student who paid $375 for a ticket. "It is high time everybody understands that we are a free people, and we have a right to welcome anyone we want -- and what's more, that every artist has a right to self-expression and that no religious or political dogmas should stand in the way here anymore."

Concert organizers said that the 37,000 tickets available for the original venue, an outdoor square near Moscow State University, sold out in three days, at prices ranging from $57 for the cheapest dance floor tickets to $943 for the best seats. The least expensive tickets still available last week for the new location, a sports stadium, cost $300.

Madonna launched her world tour in May at the Forum in Inglewood, and it is due to end this month with performances in Japan. Religious leaders in other countries have also criticized the cross scene.

Pyotr Razanin, 23, a security guard who waited in line for hours to buy tickets, said that in principle he agreed with the church's criticism.

"I support the Russian Orthodox Church, and I think that they are right when asking people to stay away from the concert," he said, explaining that the main reason he was buying tickets was to resell them at jacked-up prices.

But he just might save a ticket for himself, he added. "Most likely I will go, because it is such a rare opportunity," he said.

Alexander Prokhanov, editor in chief of Zavtra, a left-wing nationalist newspaper, said that "grandiose adoration for this lady singer on the part of a significant portion of the Russian population" reflected a spiritual emptiness in post-Soviet Russia.

"There is a gaping emptiness, a gigantic vacuum, a total abyss reigning in the Russian consciousness now," Prokhanov said. "Historically, it was filled with religious symbols or Soviet signs and dogmas, which imbued the souls of Russian citizens with horrors or utopian dreams. But there was never such emptiness as we observe now.... And this vacuum readily sucks in such illusory components of today's culture as Pepsi-Cola, McDonald's and Madonna."

It can be argued, however, that Madonna's popularity in Russia simply means the country is becoming more like the West.

Some observers holding a harsher view of the nation's history see the buzz generated by Madonna as a positive sign that a generation freed of the burdens of the past will soon come to power in Russia.

"If you look at the people who stand in lines to buy tickets for her show you may notice that a big majority of them are in their 30s and 40s," said Boris Lifanovsky, a commentator for Musical Instruments, a quarterly journal. "Many of these people undoubtedly represent the emerging middle class of Russia, and this is also very indicative and very important. This is our first generation of free-thinking, open-minded and independent people."

Lifanovsky said he thought the church had made a mistake by rushing to condemn Madonna's show. "It is a really futile and counterproductive effort which I am absolutely sure will never stop people who want to see Madonna," he said.

Andrei Kurayev, a professor at the Russian Theology Academy, said the focus of protests against Madonna was not her art as a whole but the Crucifixion scene that formed the most controversial part of this tour.

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