The opera protests.

Lee Broomfield/Metropolitan Opera

Lee Broomfield/Metropolitan Opera

A petition has been circulating among the opera crowd: it wants the Metropolitan Opera to dedicate its opening night new production première of Eugene Onegin to LGBT people suffering under Russian president Vladimir Putin’s repressive laws. The rationales:

*Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was secretly gay and suffered for it.

*The production’s conductor Valery Gergiev, and star Anna Netrebko, are on record as being Putin supporters in the past.

*The singer playing the title role, Mariusz Kwieceń, is gay.

The movement has been gaining a lot of support from critics, singers and fans alike. There are plans to boycott and picket opening night.

The Met, however, via general manager Peter Gelb, has declined to submit to the petition’s demands.

As well he 10000% should.

Politicizing the arts is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Once you take that step for causes you believe in, you have implicitly consented to it for all causes. If someone has saved up their dollars to attend their first opera at the Met, are we now going to tell them not to go because of the boycott? And if they decide to go anyway, and cross a picket line to do so, are they now homophobes ? Maybe they just want to go to the goddamned opera, hear some beautiful music, be moved, and go home.

The arrogance of the petitioners is breathtaking: if you don’t sign the petition, you support Putin’s crackdowns. Attending opening night is as if you’re personally arresting gay people and removing their children from their custody. Who are they to make operagoers take sides in a fight they may not want? Who appointed them the arbiters of what is correct?

(There is also the not inconsiderable fact that people who publicly oppose Putin have a nasty habit of getting arrested, maimed, or killed. Think Alexander Litvinenko. Or Anna Politkovskaya. Or Viktor Yushchenko. Or Alexei Navalny. Maybe the reason Netrebko and Gergiev haven’t spoken publicly about this issue is because they don’t want to, you know, DIE.)

If this boycott seems justified to you, then surely you will have no problem with these:

  • Anti-smokers protesting Carmen
  • Sex worker opponents blacklisting La Traviata and Lulu
  • Advocates for the disabled objecting to Rigoletto and Das Rheingold
  • Animal rights activists offended by The Cunning Little Vixen
  • Planned Parenthood picketing Die Frau ohne Schatten
  • Coulrophobics united against Pagliacci
  • Satanists complaining about Faust
  • Masonic/Illuminati conspiracy theorists up in arms about Die Zauberflöte

Figure out other ways to fight for LGBT rights in Russia, as we should. But leave the performing arts alone.


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