After the lights dimmed for the Metropolitan Opera’s Russian-themed opening night gala on Monday evening, the first solo voice that rang out in the house was not of a tenor or soprano, but of a protester criticizing the recent antigay laws signed by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“Putin, end your war on Russian gays!” a man shouted in the vast auditorium, which was packed for the black-tie gala opening of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” before turning to two of the evening’s Russian stars: Anna Netrebko, the popular Russian diva, and Valery Gergiev, the artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. “Anna, your silence is killing Russian gays! Valery, your silence is killing Russian gays!”
Some members of the audience tried to shush the protester, as security guards walked into the house. After a pause, the opera began.
Four protesters in the Family Circle were asked to leave and did, opera officials said.
At issue was a new law banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships” that Mr. Putin signed into law in June, drawing worldwide attention to the difficulties gay people face in Russia. Both Ms. Netrebko and Mr. Gergiev were vocal supporters of Mr. Putin in his last election.
The outburst in the opera house capped an evening of picketing outside it, as opera patrons in black tie and ball gowns were met with chanting protesters and a 50-foot rainbow banner that said “Support Russian Gays!”
The seeds for the protests on Monday night were planted when Andrew Rudin,
a composer who is gay, started an online petition urging the Met to dedicate the performance to gay rights in Russia. The petition, which has been signed by more than 9,000 people, noted that Tchaikovsky, a gay Russian composer, was being performed by artists who supported a Russian government that had passed antigay laws.
“Here’s a chance for the Met, in an entirely benign and positive way, to use its great cultural influence to be relevant, and to do something positive,” Mr. Rudin said in an interview on Monday.
Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met,
declined, writing in an opinion article for Bloomberg News over the weekend that while he was confident that “many members of our company join me in personally deploring the tyranny of Russia’s new antigay laws,” it would not be appropriate to dedicate the opera’s performances to political causes.”
Oh really dear? Luchino Visconti doesn’t agree.
“We respect the right of activists to picket our opening night and we realize that we’ve provided them with a platform to further raise awareness about serious human rights issues abroad,” Mr. Gelb wrote. A printout of the article was inserted into the opening night programs.
One of the organizers of the protest, Bill Dobbs, said, “This is a way to pressure Putin, because Putin is using culture, and the Olympics, to divert from human rights abuses.”
Ms. Netrebko said in a statement on Facebook that: “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.”
Outside of beatings, torture and death of course.
“Some people said I have to say more, but that is the maximum I can say right now,” she later told The Associated Press. “In my next life, when I will be a politician, we talk!”
Mr. Gergiev was honored by Mr. Putin this spring with a revived Soviet-era title, Hero of Labor, around the time he opened a new $700 million theater, the Mariinsky II. He has declined to comment.
“Although Russia may officially be in denial about Tchaikovsky’s sexuality, we’re not,” Mr. Gelb said in his article. “The Met is proud to present Russia’s great gay composer. That is a message, in itself.”
Really? Well here’s a message from Ken Russell
And another one from the Marx Brothers