What Would Anna Netrebko Do?

Anna_Netrebko_-_Romy_2013_aWhat would it take for you to stop listening to your favorite opera diva?  Could you ever ban your favorite composer from your iTunes library on the basis of his/her personal ideology? I’ve been thinking.

Scott Rose’s recent editorial over at Norman Lebrecht’s infamous classical music blog Slipped Disc has me reflecting on the relationship of our favorite operatic stars (and often, composers) and their political views.

First, some brief background on what’s gotten my gears turning. If you missed it, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a piece of legislation that effectively bans the discussion of same-sex relationships and gay rights in public. Naturally, there’s been quite an international backlash, with many calling for a similarly international boycott of everything from the looming 2014 Sochi Winter to a bar ban on vodka.

Enter Scott Rose, who in his July 28th piece over at Slipped Disc implores Russian soprano and international operatic darling Anna Netrebko to publicly denounce Mr. Putin and the anti-gay legislation, as well as state her official position on gay rights–calling it a matter of “legitimate public interest”. Rose even goes so far as to suggest that in the wake of scheduling of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin for its gala opening night performance, the Metropolitan Opera itself should publicly dedicate its opening night performance to the on-going struggle in Russia and show support for the LGBT community.
The operatic artform is no stranger to this sort of controversy over political views. In 2012, Russian bass Evgeny Nitikin withdrew from the Bayreuth Festival’s production of The Flying Dutchman following public outcry concerning his tattoos, which many thought to be swastikas. Mr. Nitkin seemed to release conflicting statements about what his body art actually was, telling one source that it was a “mistake of youth” but another that the tattoo in question had “no association with the swastika whatsoever“.

And, of course, one cannot talk about operatic controversy without mentioning Richard Wagner, whose anti-Semitic views have been extensively documented and discussed over the years. Even other beloved composers like Dmitri Shostakovich and Richard Strauss found themselves embroiled in immense political turmoil.

Some say we should judge art solely by its own merit and divorce a composer or interpreter’s personal ideologies from the work. But is it possible, when speaking of art, to ever completely remove the influence of the individual? With many scholars linking Wagner’s anti-Semitic views directly to the plots of his most-performed operas, do performers even have a glimmer of hope of removing such ideology from their performance?

Others have found solace in refusing to purchase, play, listen or consume the work of artists whose views do not agree with their own. Is this a solution?

So, the question stands: are the political views and personal ideologies of operatic artists/interpreters and composers important to you? Can you dissociate someone’s views from his/her art, or are the two inextricably linked?

I’m anxious to hear what you have to say! Let me know in the comments and let’s have a discussion.


1 thought on “What Would Anna Netrebko Do?”

  1. The only composer with whom I have difficulty dissociating the music from the composer’s ideologies is Ives, mainly because of ethical questions concerning his compositions. Wagner was a nut, but we can’t turn our backs on his musical contributions. Leopold II was a monster, yet Belgium still uses the plethora of buildings he commissioned. A person’s legacy will outlive him/her and have a life of its own, regardless of who created said legacy.
    On the other hand, I believe living artists and performers have a responsibility to serve as role models who pay close attention to the values they share. I wouldn’t blame those who refuse to support an artist that they deem as damaging to the public in their ideologies. As for Netrebko, I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t respond to Rose’s request. I would be scared to denounce my country’s leader (and denounce my country, as many would see it), regardless of how abhorrent their acts.

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