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    Madonna: New Time, Same Controversy

    Madonna's first-ever concert in Russia is going to be a day late and a blessing short.

    In what has become routine on her latest world tour, the Material Girl is once again heading into a city where a number of residents are up in arms (or up in posters, at least) over the mock-crucifixion she stages during each show's finale.

    A handful of peaceful protests have broken out in Moscow in recent weeks, mainly populated by members of the Russian Orthodox Church who have no interest in seeing Madonna sing "Live to Tell" while suspended from a gigantic mirrored cross. In turn they are encouraging people to boycott Tuesday night's concert.

    "This lady has been glorifying human passions with the help of religious symbols for years--crosses, statues and beads," said church spokesman Father Vsevolod Chaplin, per the Russian newspaper Pravda. "Now she thinks it is time for her to crucify herself in public. It means the singer is in need of spiritual help."

    But try telling that to the more than 50,000 people planning to descend on Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium tomorrow, a day after the concert was originally scheduled so as not to fall on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. Police have promised that extensive security measures will be in place to monitor excited concertgoers looking forward to expressing themselves.

    "About 3,500 policemen, including 400 Omon fighters [riot specialists], as well as police with dogs, bomb technicians and soldiers from the Dzerhinsky special task division, will be ensuring security," General Vyacheslav Kozlov, chief of Moscow's public security police, told Interfax news service.

    Those who purchased tickets for the Sept. 11 date were asked to head to the venue ASAP for exchanges before the madness begins Tuesday. (Although about 100 fans were already camped outside Madonna's hotel as of Monday.)

    "We decided that to hold the concert on that day [Sept. 11] would have been unethical," Vladimir Kiselyov, general director of concert co-organizer GFUP Kreml, told the Russian television station NTV. The concert also underwent a change of venue last month, with organizers thinking that the Luzhniki soccer stadium would do better to accomodate the crowd than would the hilltop Vorobyovye Gory near Moscow State University.

    The Times of London reported Monday that tickets in all price ranges were still available because many disgruntled fans sought refunds after learning that the passes they bought for the dancing zone at Vorobyovye were being replaced with seats at Luzhniki Stadium that are higher up in the stands.

    Whether Madonna is having a spiritual crisis or not, we do know that she doesn't need help in the revenue department. Fans haven't bristled (much) at shelling out $50 to $350 per ticket, and, according to Billboard, the pop icon's Confessions tour is on track to rake in $200 million this year and could conceivably be the highest-grossing tour ever for a female artist.

    Religious groups of all faiths and sizes in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and England have already voiced their discomfort, indignation, rage, etc. over Madonna's imagery-laden finale, with German officials threatening to crucify the singer in court if she went ahead with her biblical allusion during an August show. They ultimately let her off the hook, admitting that no crime had been committed.

    A small crime was committed in Amsterdam, however, when a priest confessed to calling in a phony bomb threat in an attempt to stop a couple of September shows from taking place.

    Meanwhile, Madonna has continued to defend her T-shaped position, which she assumes to raise money and awareness for Third World residents whose lives have been devastated by poverty and AIDS.

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