MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russia's Bolshoi Theater has sparked outrage by putting on an opera that some lawmakers and a pro-Kremlin youth group say is pornographic.
The opera, "Rosenthal's Children," is about a scientist who clones five great classical composers -- Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Wagner, Mussorgsky and Verdi.
The scientist then dies, and the cloned musicians -- unprepared for life on their own in the 1990s -- end up on the street.
Mozart, the youngest of them, falls in love with a prostitute whose pimp is always interfering. In the end, the pimp poisons all five geniuses.
Some members of the Russian parliament have described the state-funded Bolshoi's first new opera in more than 30 years as pornographic, vulgar and unsuitable for such a venerable institution.
"It is immoral to depict the world's greatest composers ... as bums who drink vodka and rub shoulders with prostitutes that play music in a train station and beg for money," said Sergei Neverov, who initiated a resolution criticizing the opera.
But the Bolshoi has rejected what it calls Soviet-era censorship, saying "Rosenthal's Children" is a serious project that shows that cloning genius only leads to death -- and it must be set in modern times.
"That's the pimp. He's a loser. What kinds of words is he supposed to use?" asked avant-garde composer Leonid Desyantnikov, who wrote the music for the opera.
"It's about contemporary life in Russia. It's set in 1993 and we're supposed to have everyone saying sir and madam?"
The youth group Moving Together, which supports Russian President Vladimir Putin, also condemned the Bolshoi for staging such a work. The group has publicly burned books by Vladimir Sorokin, who was commissioned to write the libretto, or text, of the new opera.
"We are protesting that a man who is a pornographer and uses foul language is being given a platform in the Russian State Bolshoi Theater, with state funds," the group's head, Vasily Yakemenko, told The Associated Press.
Moving Together activists, who have staged daily demonstrations at the central Moscow theater, plan to protest at its entrance but would not try to disrupt the performance, he said.
"If people want to go to the opera of a pornographer, that's their choice," Yakemenko said.
Acting on a complaint from the pro-Putin group, prosecutors opened a criminal case against Sorokin in 2002 but later dropped the investigation.
Sorokin's novel "Goluboye Salo," which can be translated as "Blue Lard" or "Gay Lard," depicts sex between former Soviet leaders Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev.
The investigation alarmed free-speech advocates, who fear a return to Soviet-style censorship under Putin, a former KGB officer who was elected on pledges to restore order to society.
Four nationalist lawmakers who went to Tuesday's dress rehearsal walked out before the end.
"I don't understand why there was a choir of prostitutes on the stage of the Bolshoi Theater," Irina Savelyova of the Rodina party told the Gazeta.ru news Web site.
But the head of Russia's federal culture agency, Mikhail Shvydkoi, defended the opera.
"The music is fantastic, and it is a social work about a difficult relationship between the artist and the state. The same heroes exist in Carmen and Madam Butterfly," he told AP.
All the publicity has certainly generated interest in "Rosenthal's Children," with audience members at the dress rehearsal rising to their feet in support of the cloned musicians, Mozart, his beloved prostitute -- even the infamous pimp.
CNN Correspondent Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.
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