By Maria Young
It would be tough to imagine a more awkward, more delicate circumstance than the one in which two famous Russians, opera diva Anna Netrebko and world-renowned conductor Valery Gergiev, now find themselves.
They are both under pressure from an online petition asking the New York Metropolitan Opera to dedicate its Sept. 23 opening night gala, which features the two stars performing Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” to the support of gay people.
“The almost comic irony of these people, performing a work by Tchaikovsky, everyone in the world knows Tchaikovsky was a homosexual. And the idea that these people would be in a sense just dancing on his grave, it just makes no sense,” said composer Andrew Rudin, who launched the petition, in an interview Tuesday with RIA Novosti.
Both Netrebko and Gergiev were vocal supporters of the 2012 campaign of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who signed a law this summer banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” to minors, a move that has outraged the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community and its supporters in the United States and elsewhere.
Proponents say the law shields children from harmful influences.
Rudin said the two stars are “too big” for Putin to touch, and therefore have an obligation to speak out on behalf of gay people in Russia.
“They’re being handsomely paid. They make an international career because they are authorities of his music. But… when you see two people who have cozied up to Vladimir Putin and have been basically cheerleaders for him in his campaign for reelection, I frankly think they could never have imagined that by supporting him they would find themselves in this position,” he added.
The petition started on July 31 and the number of signers jumped from roughly 2,200 on Monday to more than 5,000 on Tuesday, after several US media stories on the petition.
Many of those who signed the petition and those who commented on a New York Times article about it on Monday are pushing for Netrebko and Gergiev, as well as the Met, to get behind the movement.
“Does anyone think Gergiev and Netrebko didn’t know what they were doing as ‘vocal supporters’ of Putin? Now they want to come here and get paid big money to rip off the world’s greatest gay composer,” said one person who commented on The New York Times website.
“All in Russia is not business as usual. The Met should not be fine with it. And the tuxedos and gowns which will witness a production by one of the most famous gay Russians in history should also be reminded that his modern brothers and sisters are today subjected to torture by thugs, arrest, fines, imprisonment, the loss of their families, and the destruction of their futures,” read another comment.
But several people who commented on The New York Times website did not support the petition. “I do not support forcing the Met or anyone into a political statement. Political stands are best when they come from the person or organization that is making the stand. The Met has done nothing wrong. Anna Netrebko has done nothing wrong,” wrote one man who identified himself as gay.
Netrebko posted an Aug. 9 comment on her Facebook page, telling fans, “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.”
Her US spokesman, Sean Michael Gross, told RIA Novosti on Tuesday, “She’s an artist, not a politician. Anna has said everything she’d like to say already and is now focused on preparing for the Met’s season-opening production of ‘Eugene Onegin.’”
Gergiev has not commented publicly about the controversy, and could not be reached by RIA Novosti for comment.
The Met on Tuesday re-released a previous statement on the petition, telling RIA Novosti they felt the statement adequately addressed the issue.
“The Met is proud of its history as a creative base for LGBT singers, conductors, directors, designers, and choreographers. We also stand behind all of our artists, regardless of whether or not they wish to publicly express their personal political opinions… 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,” it read in part.
Rudin said the statements by Netrebko and the Met were “wishy-washy,” and “‘Oh, I love everybody’ kind of statements,” but he added, “They’ve got their tail in a crack. They’ve made a deal with the devil here.”