'Gorby' fails to score as a class act

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The Independent Online
GORBY - The Opera. Sounds improbable? Not at all. Take a singer who looks more like Robbie Coltrane than Mikhail Gorbachev, give him a hat and some red gunge on his forehead, add some long speeches and a smattering of music - and hey, presto, you have it.

Gorbachev, which had its premiere in Bonn this week, consists of just three characters: an accompanist, an opera director, and Gorbachev. The opera is about an opera about Gorbachev. The participants rehearse in front of an enormous illuminated red star whose bulbs - uncharacteristically for Communism - are all working. Meanwhile, the Russian pianist mutters discontentedly in the background.

We have a Gorbachev speech at a Communist Party congress, Gorbachev returning to Moscow after the coup, and Gorbachev in East Berlin. In additon, we see Mr Gorbachev dragging a huge red Russian cross accross the stage, and half-dropping it on a grand piano. At the end of it all, the accompanist brings some raspberry tea to make everyone feel better.

Mr Gorbachev himself had originally agreed to come to the premiere of the opera, composed by Franz Hummel. Then he suddenly pulled out, without giving a reason. According to one aide, Mr Gorbachev could not come because his mother-in-law was ill.

One possible explanation for the non-explanation is that Mr Gorbachev suddenly discovered what the opera would be like. He presumably expected that, in Germany at least, he would be feted. Instead, if he had come to Bonn, he would have been greeted with what one review described as 'polit-kitsch', where Gorbachev falls somewhere between the tragic and the ridiculous.

Gorbachev is only the first in a planned operatic triptych. Next comes Imelda Marcos. Then it will be Nelson Mandela's turn.