West Horsley (United Kingdom) (AFP)
A choir in medical scrubs sings “polonium, polonium” as an opera about poisoned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko premieres in a British theater on Thursday.
The former Russian security guard died in 2006 after drinking tea containing the radioactive isotope Polonium-210 in a London hotel.
As he lay dying in hospital, he pointed the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Delayed for a year by virus restrictions, British composer Anthony Bolton’s opera “The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko” will be staged at the Grange Park Opera in Surrey, southwest London.
Tickets sold out for opening night, the company’s website said.
The 71-year-old composer said he was inspired by a biography of Litvinenko written by the widow of the former FSB office, Marina and her friend Alex Goldfarb.
During a dress rehearsal, Bolton told AFP he was shocked at the details of Litvinenko’s suffering.
“He lived for about 25 days, deteriorating with his body eaten from the inside. So I was very moved by that, ”he said.
“It was then this inspiration (coming), that she had the ingredients of an opera. “
In the room, Litvinenko is seen lying in a hospital bed with his hair down from radiation poisoning.
Marina Litvinenko, 59, told AFP the opera was “based entirely” on the biography she co-wrote.
“It’s very moving because I don’t just see my story, I can listen to music. And that creates a very strong feeling, ”she said.
– Murder “approved by Putin” –
“It sounds like justice to me,” she added, since the opera names “the people who committed this crime, who killed my husband. These people are killers ”.
The opera includes a character representing Putin, although he is only named “the leader of the KGB”.
# photo1A UK public inquiry in 2016 concluded Putin ‘probably approved’ the murder of Litvinenko, which she said was likely led by the FSB.
Two Russians, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, have been identified by British police as the main suspects after meeting Litvinenko at a hotel in central London.
But attempts to extradite them have failed.
Now a nationalist MP, Lugovoi said that “the fact that a political spectacle, behind which the British secret services stand, has finally been transformed into a theatrical, lyrical spectacle, says a lot”.
He added that it was “unlikely” to watch the entire opera.
“I’m certainly not going to lose sleep because a British director considers me an opera villain,” he told AFP in Moscow.
The poisoning of Litvinenko weakened diplomatic relations between London and Moscow.
They were further eroded by the 2018 attempted murder of ex-Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, southwest England, using a quality nerve agent military Novichok.
Litvinenko, a former FSB lieutenant colonel, fled to the UK in 2000 as he faced criminal charges in Russia after exposing an alleged FSB plot to assassinate Boris Berezovsky, a tycoon and a Kremlin insider.
Berezovsky also moved to the UK and died under unclear circumstances in 2013.
Litvinenko also claimed that the FSB was involved in deadly bombings of Russian apartment buildings in 1999 – after which Putin launched a second Chechen war – and in a theatrical siege in Moscow by Chechen rebels in 2002.
His wife told the British public inquiry that Litvinenko was working for the British intelligence service MI6 at the time of his death.
– ‘Howl of protest’
Litvinenko fell ill on November 1, 2006 and died on November 23.
In a letter published after his death, he told Putin: “You have succeeded in silencing a man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
Litvinenko’s story once inspired a play titled “A Very Expensive Poison” by Lucy Prebble, based on a book by former Moscow Guardian correspondent Luke Harding.
# photo2Bolton said he hoped that with his opera, “I gave the story of his life some longevity.”
It included Russian musical references: Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky, as well as a Red Army march song, the Chechen anthem and a Moscow football song.
The staging of a 700-seat opera house features a stage where armed Chechen rebels walk through the audience, recreating the 2002 siege of the Dubrovnik theater in Moscow.
The libretto was written by Kit Hesketh-Harvey, who has adapted classic operas such as “La Traviata” and worked on a popular BBC sitcom, “The Vicar of Dibley”.
© 2021 AFP