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Classical 101

A New Controversy for the Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera opens the 2013-2014 with Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin on September 23. Valery Gergiev conducts and Anna Netrebko stars as Tatiana. This annual event is noteworthy for the paparazzi and the world of glam. The rest of us are priced way out of tickets. It's a social and a media event, and becomes important to music and drama only in subsequent performances. A little controversy never hurt anyone. Generally, the opera devotees can pick apart this diva, that conductor and by all means every sort of stage director and designer. This year's brouhaha is more menacing. The Putin government in Russia has announced serious crackdowns against homosexuals and has made plain that gay athletes coming to the 2014 Olympic games will be subject to arrest. Putin's stance on this has brought grumbles from many, but you do not want an opera lover angry at you. Letters, texts, calls, emails and blog posts have called on Mme. Netrebko and Maestro Gergiev to make plain thier objections to Putin's anti-gay strictures. Mr. Gergiev has long enjoyed the patronage of the Russian government. Mme. Netrebko, a Gergiev protegé , is today the most bankable star in opera. She is also an Austrian citizen, married to a Uruguayan baritone, domiciled in Salzburg and New York. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEEdCQHxtas The "art has no place on politics" argument has gone on for centuries. The first operas were financed by the Gonzaga court in Mantua, and they were nobody's darlings. Richard Strauss was courted by Hitler and went along to get along (he also had Jewish in laws to protect) Herbert von Karajan and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf belonged to the Nazi party. Maria Callas was a student when she sang in occupied Athens. And so on. But again, Putin is angering the wrong crowd. Pressure has come to bear on the Metropolitan to issue a strong protest against current Russian policy. Netrebko and Gergiev have been singled out as the highest profiled Russian born musicians to take a stand against Putin. Neither have replied. The Metropolitan last week issues this statement: 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. As an institution, the Met deplores the oppression 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 and right the cause. The Met does not see this as their fight,  and I have to agree. They are an entity dependent on the box office. Anna Netrebko is one of very few artists today who can guarantee a full house. (How times have changed. In my youth Pavarotti, Domingo, Sutherland, Horne, Freni, Carlos Kleiber, Sills, and Price all guaranteed the house) It would be gratifying if Anna and Mr. Gergiev wanted to issue a statement likewise condemning persecution and threats in Russia. Both are old enough to remember the Soviet system, and having worked with many artists who grew up under Communism, let me tell you that a vociferous protest against ANYTHING remains a terrifying ordeal for Russians of a certain age. Fame has its price and responsibilities. People need to follow their own conscience in supporting or deploring political stands. Does Vladimir Putin care what the Metropolitan Opera and its constituents think?  

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.