Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sometimes it's the Liberal and sometimes it's the Libretto: Gay Rights and Anna Netrebko

Well ... it's been just over two weeks since my last post. It's summer, though. There's not too much going on in the world of opera... and, if I am to be completely honest, what has been going on has been drivel. I've not felt very inspired to cover the operatic drivel.

Many have noted that I have become increasingly vocal (pun intended) about my other passion: progressive politics. That is true. I've come to the place in my writing where I've realized that there is more to cover than all opera, all the time. So, I will continue to explore the Liberal in A Liberal's Libretto - but, I wont forget the Libretto either. That you can count on.

It just so happens that I came upon a story that covers both politics and opera yesterday while reading a blog that is new to my BlogLovin feed: Opera Vivrà. Much to my delight, the post's author - Georgeanne - is someone with whom I have had a number of conversations in Twitterville - you can follow her @absolutment and, you can follow me @MrJimNewman.

You see, Russian President Putin has not been maintaining his relationship very well lately. In other words, he hasn't been playing nicely in the sandbox. Not only has his administration given asylum to one of America's most wanted cowards, prompting President Obama to cancel the upcoming Moscow Summit, but he also recently signed a blatantly discriminatory bill into law. A law that effectively bans the discussion of same-sex relationships and gay rights in public. CNN reports:
An international backlash against Russia's anti-gay propaganda law is gathering speed, from calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia to gay bars in Los Angeles planning "vodka-dumping" protests.

A number of bars worldwide have also stopped serving Russian vodka to protest Russia's stance on homosexuality.

The furor follows concern sparked by the Russian Parliament's overwhelming support for a new law banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors."

Implemented last month, after President Vladimir Putin signed it into law, it bars the public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear it -- and has been condemned by Russian and international rights groups as highly discriminatory.
On the heels of this story, Scott Rose wrote an Editorial at the Slipped Disc blog. It begins:
On September 23, 2013, Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is due to perform Tatyana in the Metropolitan Opera’s gala opening night performance of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The composer, as is well known, was a gay man who suffered profoundly due to anti-homosexual prejudices.

The recent passage of nightmare anti-gay legislation under Vladimir Putin in Netrebko’s homeland, combined with the fact that in the past, Netrebko has campaigned for Putin, expressed political support for him and met him in person, shaking his hand would seem to make it imperative that she now use her platform unequivocally to express support for LGBT rights internationally, including in Russia, if in fact she supports gay rights. I e-mailed Netrebko’s New York City management on Saturday, July 27, asking if Anna supports LGBT rights. It is a matter of legitimate public interest to clarify whether Anna Netrebko holds gay human beings in respect or contempt.
Georgeanne takes the point one step further:
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?
My opinion is this: If you become a public figure (ie: a celebrity) you may find yourself at the forefront of various issues-of-the-day. Especially if you voice support for certain political figures. It goes with the territory. If La Netrebko were simply an operatic celebrity, I may be able to let her slide on this issue, but since she seems to be a supporter of Putin, therefore having inserted herself into the political discourse, then I do believe that she should make her position known should inquiring minds ask it of her. And, I believe they have.

In regards to Georganne's question: are the political views and personal ideologies of operatic artists/interpreters and composers important to you? The short answer for me is yes. But, not as a deterrent. I can chose to use use them as a filter and understand their influence in the work or it's performer. The trouble is that it's much easier to filter a piece than it is to filter the performer.

I think to understand my point, we need to divide this up into two different categories: Those who build the car. And, those who drive the car.

Those who build the car: A composer often times puts their heart and soul into the works they create. The heart and soul can't help but be influenced by ones personal ideologies. Therefore, personal ideologies will, even in the simplest form, end up in a composer's work. It's almost impossible to look at Wagner’s most-performed operas and not see his blatant anti-Semitic ideologies. Simply knowing this though gives us a filter through which passes the music.

The car is what it is. You can repaint it, wash it, wax it etc. but, it's still intrinsically the same car that sits parked in your garage.

Those who drive the car: A performer, if they're worth their salt, brings to the stage everything that is in their tool kit. That is: everything that has influenced their ability to become a character. But, in order to become a character - in order to transform into what the composer asks - many times, the tool they need from the tool kit, is the one that allows them to check their personal ideologies at the door in order. If you're a performer and you don't have that tool. I have a difficult time getting on board with you.

The driver of the car is a different story. One false move and you're having an intimate moment with a bridge abutment.

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