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Separated At Birth, Booed At The Bolshoi

A combo photo of Vladimir Churov (left) and Krzysztof Penderecki
A combo photo of Vladimir Churov (left) and Krzysztof Penderecki
Polish conductor and composer Krzysztof Penderecki was no doubt looking forward to a relaxing evening of opera from his luxurious perch on the Imperial Balcony of the newly refurbished Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

Unfortunately, no one had warned him that his physical appearance bears a startling resemblance to a man who is currently one of the least loved public figures in cantankerous, election-season Moscow: Federal Election Commission head Vladimir Churov.

The Russian website has alternately compared Churov -- a broad-faced 58-year-old with a white beard and owlish spectacles -- to Kris Kristofferson, Albus Dumbledore, Aleksandr Herzen, and, less charitably, a gorilla.

But never to the 78-year-old Penderecki, who sports his own downy white beard and shares a taste for large round eyeglasses.

Nevertheless, members of the Bolshoi audience on February 25 were quick to mistake the Polish maestro for the man many Russians have accused of falsifying December's parliamentary vote and suspect may attempt the same in this weekend's critical presidential election.

A chorus of boos rang through the theater. One opera fan reportedly shouted up to ask how much he charged for dead souls -- a reference to that night's offering, Rodion Shchedrin's 1976 adaptation of the Nikolai Gogol classic, as well as what has come to be Russian literary shorthand for vote-buying and other election scammery.

Witnesses cite Penderecki as looking perplexed by the outcry.

The theater later issued a statement to explain that the bearded man in the balcony was not Churov but the man considered by many to be Poland's greatest living composer.

"These two men are really very similar from a distance," organizers wrote on Facebook. "But we can confirm that it was Penderecki."

The incident prompted calls from Russian bloggers for President Dmitry Medvedev and members of the political opposition to apologize to Penderecki.

"If they don't," wrote one, "then Europe will continue to think that Russia is populated by total hicks who walk around the Bolshoi Theater like bears around the Kremlin."

-- Daisy Sindelar

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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