Two Russian stars, soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev, publicly supported Vladimir Putin in his reelection to the presidency in 2012. They, in turn, have won favor from his administration, notably with the May opening of the Marinsky II, a $700 million St. Petersburg facility that likely could not have come into being without governmental support. Gergiev is the artistic director of the Marinsky Theater complex and Netrebko is one of its major stars. Putin was in the audience at the gala opening night performance.
The crackdown on gays no doubt took Netrebko and Gergiev by surprise and has left them in a political no-man's land, unable to speak out because of their ties to Putin on the one hand and to the international opera world, including the Met, on the other. The opera world contains many openly gay people and is fluidly international. It is expected that these laws will affect the entire opera community as it travels between the U.S., Europe, Asia and Russia.
By coincidence, the 2013-14 Metropolitan Opera season will commence with
by the great 19th century Russian Peter I. Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous homosexual composers in the classical repertoire. Gergiev, a respected master of the Russian literature, will conduct. Netrebko, the reigning queen of the world's great operatic divas, will play the lead female role.
There you have it: With the spotlight already on Russia's antigay crackdown, a work by a celebrated homosexual Russian composer is launching the Met's new season, with two pro-Putin Russian stars onstage surrounded by many gay co-stars, musicians and crew, in a country that has recently become a leader in social equality for gays.
Fittingly, for opera, the irony is larger than life.
While Gergiev has remained silent on the issue, Netrebko, to her credit, has posted a tempered statement on her Facebook page, with no mention of Russia.
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.
If the antigay crackdown sounds decidedly Stalin-esque, Netrebko's indirect response likewise imitates the coded language reminiscent of Cold War-era protests, stopping short of direct criticism of the state policy.
Feeling the pressure of the rising call to take action, the Metropolitan Opera also issued a noncommittal statement, if somewhat more direct, quoted in the
New York Times
As an institution, the Met deplores the suppression of equal rights here or abroad. But since our mission is artistic, it is not appropriate for our performances to be used by us for political purposes, no matter how noble or right the cause.
The Met has also said it supports its artists "whether or not they wish to publicly express their personal political opinions."