When Russia invaded Ukraine, we discussed how various Russian artists, athletes, and performers were blacklisted or fired for not publicly condemning the invasion or Vladimir Putin. Artists and athletes turned on their colleagues and forced them to change their political views as a condition for singing, playing or writing. Now, Soprano Anna Netrebko is suing the Metropolitan Opera and its general manager Peter Gelb for defamation, breach of contract and other violations linked to her termination.
Netrebko’s termination followed the invasion in 2022 after Gelb had demanded she repudiate Russia President Vladimir Putin. If true, Gelb should himself be fired. Conditioning performances on adhering to a political viewpoint is an outrageous denial of free speech and artistic freedom. Indeed, it is precisely the type of abuses that define the authoritarianism of Putin and his regime. For centuries, artists have fought for the freedom to create regardless of their political viewpoints.
Gelb is accused of doing precisely what studios and companies did to socialists and communists in the 1950s in demanding that they renounce their political beliefs if they wanted to write, sing, or act.
None of this seems to matter to the Met’s loyal supporters in New York. The American Guild of Musical Artists filed a grievance on Netrebko’s behalf and the arbitrator found that the Met violated the union’s collective bargaining agreement when it canceled her contracts to appear in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” and “La Forza del Destino” and Giordano’s ”Andrea Chénier.” She was awarded $209,103.48.
Yet, Gelb was retained as general manager of the Met.
Netrebko now alleges ”severe mental anguish and emotional distress” that included “depression, humiliation, embarrassment, stress and anxiety, and emotional pain and suffering.”
She says that she is being blackballed due to her refusal to adhere to the political viewpoints of Gelb and the Met. She alleges that Gelb and the Met fueled protests against her and destroyed her reputation.
The loss is to the art world. This not only bars a talented artist, but embraces the same intolerance from the Red Scare period. It is an all-too-familiar story as many on the left embrace censorship and blacklists to silence those with opposing views. They support one of the great artistic institutions in the world, but now effectively support a political litmus test for artists.