Opera season is quickly approaching, and New York's Metropolitan Opera will be celebrating with a performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. In light of the Russian government's harsh restrictions and intolerance towards the LGBTQ community, many have unsurprisingly voiced their concern over all things Russian in America. Bars have begun banning Stoli (despite the brand's dissociation with the country), and buzz over boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is still in the air. Now, according to The New York Times, the latest bout of American activism targets the art world with an online petition urging the Met Opera to dedicate opening night to supporting the rights of queer Russian culture.
Started by Charles Rudin, the petition calls out Eugene Onegin's leading soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev, both Russians who supported President Putin's 2012 campaign. Rudin believes the Met's decision to open its season with a Russian work in light of the country's recent law against homosexuality "dishonors the work of a great citizen [Tchaikovsky] and his legacy as well as the progress made in our own country to secure equality for all citizens."
The larger issue here is not the Met's season calendar — Eugene Onegin has been in production long before word of Putin's stance on queer rights hit the media. Instead, Rudin's petition is asking the Met to leave its comfort zone and mix the art world with the political. The two spheres have historically gone hand-in-hand (and much of Tchaikovsky's oeuvre has a subtle political undertone), but the Met's mission, according to its general manager Peter Gelb, has always been artistic. "It is not appropriate for our performances to be used by us for political purposes, no matter how noble or right the cause,” he said in an official statement. The statement explained the Opera's proud history of supporting homosexual musicians and artists, and that it "deplores the suppression of equal rights here or abroad." As for being a vehicle to voice displeasures, well, that's not what the Met thinks it stands for.
There's a rich dialogue to be had concerning the role art plays in politics and vice versa. Netrebko issued a statement over her Facebook expressing her stance against discrimination, but whether an audience can watch a Russian production without feelings of guilt or thoughts of the latest debate on the issue in the back of their minds remains to be seen.
In the meantime, petitioning a massive institution to support a bias is admirable, but like the Times notes, it may not be the best route for initiating effective change. (The New York Times)
Photo: via The New York Times.