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Petition Pits Opera World Against Putin Over Gay Rights

"Going to the Met may seem an elitist activity that most people wouldn't care about," Rudin says. But the actual audience is generally "far more diverse than you find at a hockey game," with "every known kind of individual" including every type of ethnicity, every type of economic class, every type of occupation.

But Rudin believes it isn't a love of opera but the identification with gay rights that has created the greatest support for his position.

"People will tell me, 'oh, I have people in my family who are gay' or 'I have a student'," Rudin says. "It's something that matters personally. I have found out that many of my former students think highly of me because in their world I was one of the first out gay professors that they knew.

"That's why the gay rights movement has triumphed as it has," Rudin adds, "because it is hard to bring Draconian measures against people that you know. You have to have a really dictatorial government to bring about what Putin is doing here. It's kind of amazing."

While the pressure on Netrebko, Gergiev and the Met is significant, the greatest pressure on Putin himself will likely come not from the arts world but from the Olympics athletes. Russia is scheduled to host the Winter Olympic games in 2014. Should athletes or visitors be concerned about the possibility of arrest in Russia, they may decide not to risk it. A movement for the U.S. to boycott those games is already under way.

But for a composer like Rudin, the great mystery is how Putin could enact policies that "denigrate one of their own great cultural heroes."

"Tchaikovsky's own personal difficulties are undoubtedly reflected in the music that he wrote," Rudin said. "We're indebted to him that he converted that difficulty to something that people can universally relate to."

Observing the global trend toward equal rights in South America, the U.S., Britain and France, Rudin said the repressive policies of Putin's Russia seem "Stalin-esque" by comparison.

"One would like to think that things have altered and changed with the demise of the Soviet system," he added. "But it looks like Putin wants to bring that back."

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York.

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