Russian Soprano Sues the Metropolitan Opera Over Ukraine-Linked Termination

YouTube screenshot/Netrebko

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.




38 thoughts on “Russian Soprano Sues the Metropolitan Opera Over Ukraine-Linked Termination”

  1. Artists, musicians, and athletes generally should not be held accountable for the politics of their country of origin. Artistic expression is a form of free speech. The sticky part for the theater is that it is a business. If hosting a Russian performer means they lose money, they could go out of business. A person has the right to hold racist views, for example, but any theater would be ruined if it headlined an artist who turned out to be an active KKK member. This scenario is oceans away from Netrebko simply being Russian. It only serves to illustrate the complexities of when personal beliefs reflect on an employer. In this case, Netrebko’s personal opinions have no bearing on her art form.

    There are instances where performers and athletes directly represent their country, such as the Olympics, and other international competitions. In that case, they are representatives of their government. The Nazis hosted the Olympics in 1936. German Jews and other non Aryans were excluded, and many Jewish athletes from other countries boycotted. The Games went on, though. Hitler hid much of his genocidal mania, declaring tourists wouldn’t be subject to the tyrannical laws, and taking down the antisemitic signage. Hitler used the Games to advance propaganda. Should they have been cancelled, even though German athletes would have been disenfranchised?

    Hypothetically, should a modern day Nazi regime be allowed to compete in international sports, and should its government run ballet touring company be invited to perform in Allied theaters?

    It’s an interesting question. I personally believe that individual artists and athletes performing and competing on their own should not be held accountable for the actions of their government, nor should they be forced to renounce or espouse any particular political belief. Fencing opponents should shake hands after their match, for example, even if the winner is Ukrainian and loser Russian. To the competitors, though, it might feel like requiring a Jew to shake hands with a Nazi. Difficult in the extreme, but part of the sportsmanship required in these venues.

    Should national teams be banned on the recommendations of the sports governing bodies? If that’s allowed, can it devolve into forced speech or loyalty oaths, such as the trend not too long ago of requiring support for BLM?

  2. Dear Prof Turley,

    I suppose unreasonable, unfair and/or supremely arrogant patriotism has ever been the last refuge of lilly-livered scoundrels. Good to see you address the Mets outrageous and deplorable ‘Russophobia’. I’ve never seen anything like it. .. both in scope and scale.

    I knew there was a problem in Houston when they banned Tolstoy’s writings and wanted to re-name the Tchaikovsky Institute after Ukrainian ultra-nationalist hero Stephan Bandara (a WWII Nazi collaborator). Somehow, U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century always seems to fund and arm some of the most ruthless, corrupt and vicious a**holes on the planet.
    Russia is not Iraq however .. . and no amount of state propaganda, or ‘abuse of soft power’, will change the catastrophic metrics in Ukraine.

    The object is not to ‘stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism .. . nor to abolish the system of national autotomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided.’ Rather, that sane patriotism is contingent upon, and indivisible from, the security and well being of other nation-states.

    The claimed supremacy of U.S. (& NAtO) policy, sanctions and expansion is a direct threat to the functional authority of the United Nations. .. mission to prevent conflicts short of war.


    ~ Modern Russia is not the U.S.S.R. It’s not in the same ball park .. . it’s not even the same game.

    ~ I’ve read most of president Putin’s major geopolitical speeches going back 20 years and found them all eminently fair and reasonable. Coupled with his domestic economic policies, little wonder Putin enjoys an 85% approval rating among Russians.

    ~ I suspect Russian elections, politics (and the media) is a lot ‘freer and fairer’ than Biden v Trump redux .. . but that’s not saying much.

    ~ Zelenskiy does not speak for all Ukrainians (& certainly not for me). .. and it was the U.S. fomented/planned 2014 coup and resulting ethnic ‘civil war’ that provoked Russian/Putin military intervention, among other Russophobia concerns. .. their thought, habit, language, culture and art being so enjoined with Ukrainians they probably ‘have the same dreams.’

  3. Who in their right mind would concluded that it would be fair/legal/smart/right to fire someone because of their place of national origin or their refusal to sign the equivalent of a loyalty oath? Well, obviously the son of the former editor of the New York Times (Arthur Gelb) and a guaranteed liberal who thinks he’s 10 feet tall and bullet-proof as he basks in his presumed virtue. Let the damages rain down on The Met like manna from Heaven. These hypocrites deserve the flood.

    1. Mespo: “Who in their right mind would conclude…”

      And there is the problem: our society, top to bottom, is clearly not in its right mind.

  4. Gelb is a deranged leftist. Gelb is also demanding that Modest Mussorgsky publicly repudiate Putin as a condition of his opera Boris Godonuv continuing to played at the Met. Gelb asserted that the fact that Mussorgsky died in 1881 “is no excuse.”

  5. In the early 1990s, there was a wave of newly available Russian singers who were suddenly the flavor of the month in the United States, blocking opportunities for young American singers. I remember attending one performance and hearing the soprano squeak out extreme high notes I could hit reliably at any hour of the day or night, sick or well, but she was being highly touted at the time. The Met itself has never been fair. The great Beverly Sills was kept out for years until her worldwide renown embarrassed the Met into giving her a debut late in her career. Now, many singers face barriers be aid DEI initiatives. Opera is not a level playing field, though its barriers to entry are high. To pretend otherwise is ridiculous. The Met’s actions here may indeed be wrong in principle, but they are certainly nothing new. I have always thought Ms. Netrebko’s voice too heavy for some of the roles she sings, but she should not be excluded for these reasons. That said, the Met gave her a tremendous platform for a very long time.

  6. She’s obviously being punished for wrong-think. Whatever, we’re ALL rooting for Russia in their proxy war that the US started.

  7. And even the war rationale is hardly as one sided as war propaganda’s false trumpets blare.

  8. What an appropriate opera clip. We have a “civil war” brewing in our nation, and this opera is about the end of the English Civil War.

  9. Agree with most of the viewpoints above. Economic sanctions against the state (Russia) are ok and a matter of policy as are sanctioning the oligarchs who support him and finance him as well as gain from Putin’s rogue state. This action is the same as sewing a star of david on a jew’s clothes and imprisoning japanese americans who also lost jobs and property. Also the same as firing conservatives or not letting them speak. Artistic expression and free speech are the same. Not just for the elite influencers who think they run this country

  10. “Netrebko now alleges ”severe mental anguish . . .”


    Whatever anguish she’s suffered is a mere pittance to the horrific suffering caused by her “hero.”

    1. Her hero? When did she ever claim that? I tell you that I have far more respect for Putin than Biden. Should I lose my job too?

      1. “When did she ever claim that?”

        By word and deed, she *actively* supported that tyrant for years. (Look it up.)

        To support those who embrace dictatorship is to endorse that dictatorship.

    2. Did you ever consider that her failure to renounce Putin may be a reasonable fear for her life? She would be then considered his enemy publicly.

      1. “Did you ever consider that . . .”

        You might want to make yourself knowledgeable about her *long* history of public support for that tyrant.

  11. “Indeed, it is precisely the type of abuses that define the authoritarianism of Putin and his regime.” (JT)

    You’re conflating two fundamentally different situations, based on an inapt moral equivalence.

  12. “If true, Gelb should himself be fired.” (JT)

    I respectfully disagree.

    If you support a butcher, you pay the price.

    (I love Netrebko’s singing and performance. Her politics, not so much.)

  13. Many musicians have faced similar experiences with the DIE–oops, I meant DEI–initiatives at major symphonies. Some have chosen to quit or retire early over being forced into these classes and required to play music by “under-represented” composers. Forget merit.

    1. Fascinating books etc out there from admired places, Universities and such about ” goals” to make orchestras ” more representative”, right after Hitler took over, which hardened into quotas the following year, which then hardened into excluding the Jews altogether. People are so lazy about reading history they see no risk of that happening here. Remember the Reich’s whole pitch was not about Kosher dill pickles , it was about ” reparations”, ” righting wrongs”. Read some books, people. Now as then : Huh ??? ” Reparations ? Righting wrongs ?

    2. “Many musicians have faced similar experiences with . . .”

      If that were her case, I would agree with you. But it’s not. For years, she willingly and openly supported Putin’s tyranny.

  14. Netrebko is no more morally compromised than Gelb who protected James Levine for years despite the ample evidence that the conductor was a serial child abuser of the worst sort

    1. Gelb did “protect [] James Levine for years despite the ample evidence that the conductor was a serial child abuser of the worst sort[.]” Gelb protected Levine because of the ample evidence.

  15. Her beliefs should not affect her employment. If the consumers reject her, that should be a factor but the Met should not be trying to compel speech pro or con.

    The modern day McCarthyism has been in force for some time now. This is not new.

  16. Beautiful voice, beautiful woman. Keep after “Woke Gelb”. Good news is she is appreciated all over the world with performance dates ib France, Italy, Germany and S America.

    1. Same has happened to pianist Valentina Lititsa; Toronto Symphony Orchestra cancelled her engagements

    2. France, Germany and Italy are all EU countries. How do you condemn the EU for a policy and then compliment the same entity for not following the Met?

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