An Open Letter To Peter Gelb Concerning Anna Netrebko
Dear Peter Gelb, General Manager of The Metropolitan Opera Company,
I am writing you as one who adores the Met Opera, and yet I am troubled by Anna Netrebko being submitted to a litmus test of political opinion, in light of two historic problems that your house has settled concerning Strauss and Wagner .
I find the following statement Orwellian, “It is a great artistic loss for the Met and for opera,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “Anna is one of the greatest singers in Met history, but with Putin killing innocent victims in Ukraine, there was no way forward.”
I do not see how Netrebko’s opinion in anyway is going to countermand Putin’s actions, tactics or timelines. Let Putin own his actions but not conflate his actions for Netrebko’s opinion or give her opinion an unjust weighing in the outcome of world events. There were other ways forward that your house could have taken that would have been as independent of the outcome in the Ukrainian as Anna Netrebko being forced off the Met’s stage. I disagree with Netrebko and I do denounce Putin’s savage attack on the Ukraine, yet this is easy for me, since I have no ties to Russian, and have not put myself or others at risk by denouncing him.
I see the lack of tolerance of an unpopular opinion as part of the history of opera, opera companies have fought the censor from the inception of Opera. As the greatest house in the United States and I dare say the world, I would expect very diverse difference of political opinion to be tolerated by the Met.
The Wagner problem concerns the fact that the Wagner’s writings were severely anti-Semitic. The solution that opera houses including the, Metropolitan Opera, have taken is that his opinions in his writings are not reflected in his opera and that the operas are of high artistic value as to justify their performance in spite of Wagner’s opinions. Bluntly, we criticize Wagner ugly writings, yet perform his music. I support this solution for its imperfection, in this less than perfect world.
The Strauss problem gains more sympathy, in November 1933 Strauss was appointed to the post of president of the newly founded Reichsmusikkammer, the Reich Music Chamber. Strauss, who had lived through numerous political regimes and had no interest in politics, decided to accept the position but to remain apolitical, a decision which would eventually become untenable. In part, Strauss accepted the unwanted role to protect his Jewish daughter in law and his grandchild. His operas are the greatest known to me, without doubt he merits his place in the performed repertoire. I am saddened blackmail took place in a dictatorship where lives and safety are used as levers to compel men like Strauss to work with in cruel regimes. I sympathize with Strauss who tried to make the best of an impossible situation.
Even with their flaws, Strauss and Wagner are still important and deserve to be performed. Also, I do not fear they are in any jeopardy of being pushed out of the repertoire, I am not making a slippery slope argument.
I think Netrebko’s opinions on Putin are wrong, but less dangerous than Wagner’s extreme writings. As well, I think Putin proposes a dilemma similar to the one Strauss faced to all Russian artists both inside and outside Russia.
What Anna Netrebko has done for your houses and the houses of Europe during the pandemic was heroic. She risked her health to perform in times when the risk was a real danger to her health. She was the face of opera and the Met in a dire hour for your company. She was the centerpiece of the online galas and pay per view concerts. I am sure her HD performance given free of charge by the Met were of great solace to others as they were to me, and led to donations by many patrons.
By the number of years she has headlined your company, I am sure that you personally considered her the Mets’ Prima Donna. She has few rivals and few have given performances as an artist with such grandeur on your stage.
If artistic merit can be balanced against a wrong headed opinion then I ask why was this not considered by the Met for Anna Netrebko? You have extended this courtesy to Wagner and Strauss, why did you not do the same for Anna Netrebko? Was there not another path that was more just to someone who has given the Met and Opera so much? I hope you address these questions seriously and publicly.
March 9, 2022