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Gay Rights Protesters Disrupt Metropolitan Opera's Opening Night Performance of Tchaikovsky's 'Eugene Onegin'

By Louise Burton on Sep 24, 2013 05:31 PM EDT

The Metropolitan Opera's opening night gala performance last night of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin was disrupted by a gay rights supporter calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals in Russia.

"Putin, end your war on Russian gays!" he shouted in the auditorium, just as the lights dimmed before the performance.

He then addressed the evening's conductor, Valery Gergiev, and starring soprano Anna Netrebko: "Anna, your silence is killing Russian gays! Valery, your silence is killing Russian gays!"

Russian conductor Valery Gergiev is a well-known Vladimir Putin supporter, as is Anna Netrebko.

Security guards came in and asked the protesters to leave, and four protesters walked out. After a pause, the performance began. Ironically, the music they played was written by Tchaikovsky--a Russian composer even Putin accepts was gay.

Outside the opera house, gay rights protesters were picketing, carrying a 50-foot rainbow banner reading: "Support Russian Gays!"

At issue were new Russian anti-homosexual laws, including a law banning "propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships" that President Putin signed into law earlier this summer.

Gergiev, who is music director of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, is the most prominent cultural figure in Russia.

Neither Gergiev nor Netrebko have spoken publicly on the issue of Russian anti-gay legislation, although Netrebko recently posted a message on her Facebook page reading: "As an artist, it is my great joy to collaborate with all of my wonderful colleagues--regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I have never and will never discriminate against anyone."

Composer Andrew Rudin had started an online petition in August asking the Met to dedicate their opening night performance to gay rights in Russia. His petition was signed by more than 9,000 people.

Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, decided against dedicating the performance to victims of Putin's oppressive regime. In an article he wrote for Bloomberg, he stated: "...as an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world."

However, Rudin's petition brought focused attention on the Met's performance, helping to make it a flashpoint for gay rights activists.

It's getting political for Gergiev and Netrebko in the U.S. Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra's tour of the U.S. in a few weeks may be met by similar protests. The prominent conductor may experience increased pressure to reveal exactly where he stands on the issue of gay rights in Russia.

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TagsMetropolitan Opera, Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin, Vladimir Putin, Valery Gergiev, Anna Netrebko, Mariinsky Orchestra, Andrew Rudin, Peter Gelb, New York Times, New York Magazine, Bloomberg