It was glitz, glamor, and gay rights at the Metropolitan Opera's opening night last night, when Valery Gergiev conducted all-star soprano Anna Netrebko in the beloved show Eugene Onegin. Even though the Russian government wants to pretend that Onegin scribe Pyotr Tchaikovsky was straight, that's obviously not the case, and LGBT activists here had asked Met General Manager Peter Geld to dedicate last night's performance to equality, a way of protesting Russia's anti-gay regime. The Met refused because, it said, "It is not appropriate for our performances to be used by us for political purposes, no matter how noble or right the cause." So, LGBT activists decided to stage their own showing outside, where they held banners, placards, and shirts declaring their love for inclusion, and urging the show's rich, famous attendees to join their cause: ending discrimination in Russia.
Meanwhile, inside the rarefied space, one member the group Queer Nation NY yelled, just as the show began, "Putin, end your war on Russian gays!” He then took on Gergiev and Netrebko, who have previously supported homophobic Russian president Vladimir Putin. "Anna, your silence is killing Russian gays! Valery, your silence is killing Russian gays!” Security quickly muffled the interloper.
But that doesn't mean The Met was suddenly politically neutral territory.
Yesterday, before the show, Met manager Peter Gelb published an op-ed in Bloomberg News in which he again said that he and his colleagues are opposed to discrimination, obviously, but could not turn the opera's opening night into a political statement. However, he said, they are happy to have helped provide a "platform" for Queer Nation and the other protesters.
"Throughout its distinguished 129-year history, the Met has never dedicated a single performance to a political or social cause, no matter how important or just. Our messaging has always been through art.
"However, we’re engaged when it comes to social advocacy inside the Met. Through the choice of our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rainbow of artists and staff, the Met has long been at the forefront of championing sexual and social equality within our company.
"We leave it to our artists to integrate their own ideas about society and politics into the work they create for our stage. We respect the right of activists to picket our opening night and we realize that we’ve provided them with a platform to further raise awareness about serious human rights issues abroad."
Geld made sure a copy of that op-ed was included in the programs at last night's show, meaning that even though the Met couldn't officially come out against Russia, its general manager made sure their pro-gay message was easy to find. That's saying something, right?
Meanwhile, Queer Nation NY points out that Sir Patrick Stewart and his wife, Sunny Ozell, showed his LGBT support by adding rainbow ribbons to their outfits.