Picketers claim the victory as Gergiev and Netrebko are heckled at gala performance.
The controversial Metropolitan Opera Gala performance of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin has gone ahead amidst turbulent scenes both inside and outside the opera house. “Putin, end your war on Russian gays!” shouted a man inside the packed black-tie event. He followed up with: “Anna, your silence is killing Russian gays! Valery, your silence is killing Russian gays!” before security removed him from the auditorium.
Outside the Lincoln Center a substantial picket line holding a 50-foot banner chanted slogans as patrons arrived. Met Opera boss Peter Gelb had repeatedly rejected requests from gay rights supporters to dedicate the performance to victims of Vladimir Putin’s oppressive anti-gay legislation voted through the Russian parliament earlier this year.
Both Mariinsky boss Valery Gergiev and leading soprano Anna Netrebko were vocal supporters of Putin’s reelection campaign and it was hoped that one or the other might make a statement on the subject. Netrebko has written on her facebook page: “As an artist, it is my great joy to collaborate with all of my wonderful colleagues — regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I have never and will never discriminate against anyone.” She later went on to comment to Associated Press saying: “Some people said I have to say more, but that is the maximum I can say right now. In my next life, when I will be a politician, we talk!” Gergiev, recently made a Russian ‘Hero of Labour’ and a close ally of Putin, has so far declined to make any statement on the subject.
Gelb meanwhile has remained sympathetic while refusing to make an overt stand. Over the weekend he wrote an opinion piece for Bloomberg News in which he stated that, “many members of our company join me in personally deploring the tyranny of Russia’s new antigay laws,” before adding, “We respect the right of activists to picket our opening night and we realize that we’ve provided them with a platform to further raise awareness about serious human rights issues abroad.” He even went as far as to maintain that, “Although Russia may officially be in denial about Tchaikovsky’s sexuality, we’re not. The Met is proud to present Russia’s great gay composer. That is a message, in itself.” A printed version of the article was subsequently inserted into the opening night programs.
The composer Andrew Rudin, who started the online petition urging the Met to dedicate the performance to gay rights in Russia, had gathered more than 9,000 signatures by the time of the gala. After the event he was clearly satisfied with the outcome, emailing supporters and saying: “Metropolitan Opera General Manager in a most unusual way gave us exactly what we were asking for all along. His explanation, inserted into every program last night, about why the Met was NOT dedicating the evening, was (of course) in fact, a dedication. Rather like saying, do not under any circumstances think about a green and purple rhinoceros! AND, he’s interviewed on the subject for TV, wearing and displaying Rainbow suspenders under his tux. Everyone deserves credit for the effort made and the results achieved. I, at least, as the originator of the petition am quite satisfied that justice was served. Perhaps even more positively than had the Met simply agreed early on. My deepest gratitude to the more than 9000 who joined our cause.”