From Development server
30 January 2015

Anti-Putin Protestor Climbs Onstage During Curtain Calls For Premiere of Metropolitan Opera's New Iolanta/Bluebeard's Castle Double-Bill

A protester interrupted the curtain calls following last night’s Metropolitan Opera performance of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta by climbing onstage and unrolling a poster bearing a Ukranian flag and with imagery denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin. The demonstrator, who appeared immediately following soprano Anna Netrebko's bows, held out its message to audience members and the performance conductor, Valery Gergiev, before turning to display the poster to the show’s cast, who were just steps away and also included tenor Piotr Beczala. Many in the audience booed before he walked offstage, apparently escorted into the wings by a Met employee waiting at the proscenium. He was arrested, the New York Times reported, but his name was not immediately available.

The Met premiere of Tchaikovsky’s final opera — the first half of a new double bill with Bluebeard’s Castle — starred Netrebko in the title role and was led by Gergiev, the general and artistic director of St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre and former principal guest conductor at the Met. Both have been dogged by political protests in recent years — some having interrupted the performances in which they’ve taken part — for their expressed support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose antigay policies and annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine has vexed the international political community and drawn censure from human rights groups and citizens. 

Prior to conducting the double-bill at the Met, Gergiev has been visiting New York City with the theater’s orchestra for performances at additional venues around the city. Outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music before and after a January 14 performance of Shchedrin’s The Enchanted Wanderer, about half a dozen demonstrators chanted protest slogans and handed out fliers. “In the midst of these tragic events, some of [sic] Russian musicians, actors and artists signed the letter of support for Russia’s military occupation of Ukraine,” read one flier, which was topped with a photograph of Gergiev with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. “Among those who signed this letter were famous Russian musicians such as Valery Gergiev.” An article by John Freedman in the January issue of OPERA NEWS addresses the contentious intersection of the the arts and government influence amidst Russia's charged political climate. 

Last month, at a news conference arranged to publicize her donation of one-million Rubles to the Donetsk opera house, Netrebko was photographed holding a separatist flag with Oleg Tsarov, the leader of a separatist confederation in Ukraine. A furor erupted after Tsarov posted the picture on social media channels; a spokesperson for Netrebko said that the photograph had not been planned and that the soprano did not immediate recognize the banner when it had been handed to her. In a statement, Netrebko attempted to characterize her donation to the company as a gesture that was “not about politics, it is about art.”

Gergiev and Netrebko were also the subject of protests at the Met in September 2013, following Putin’s signing of antigay legislation banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships,” the New York Times reported. As the lights went down on that year’s season-opening performance of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, gay rights advocates rallied outside the Met and one protester shouted slogans in the house before he and three others were escorted out of the venue by security officials. The soprano subsequently posted a statement on Facebook addressing the outcry that read: “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.” 

As last night’s performance of Iolanta ended, the protester appeared in the audience at the far corner of stage-right before hoisting himself up, then pausing beside a stack of speakers to unfurl his sign, which displayed the colors of the Ukrainian flag along with the gone-viral image of Putin from Time magazine’s 2007 cover story, Photoshopped to include features of Hitler. He then strode to center-stage, pointing it outward for about ten seconds before turning to the cast for another three or four. Anna Netrebko, smiling for her curtain call, nodded to him a few times before he walked offstage. Gergiev, who conducted both halves of the double bill, was not onstage at the time, as he took his bows — without interruption — during the curtain calls after Bluebeard's Castle. spacer 

ADAM WASSERMAN and HENRY STEWART

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