The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Let’s boycott them if music superstars Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev don’t try to enlighten Vladimir Putin about gays and lesbians. | September 22, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Like everybody else, I am pretty angry, disappointed and frustrated about Russia and the spoiler role it continues to play in defending Syria’s genocidal actions and in blocking justified moves by the United Nations against President Assad and his murderous regime.

Syria family-escapes from-fierce fighting-between free-syrian army-fighters and-government-troops in idlib northern syria in march 2012

But I am also very irritated, annoyed and angered by the way that Macho Man Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (below) and the Russian right-wing politicians have stigmatized gays and lesbians and passed laws against the LGBT community.

Russia Armenia

Which is also why I was so proud of U.S. President Barack Obama for openly meeting with LGBT advocates in Saint Petersburg when he recently went there for the G-20 summit of economically powerful nations.

Obama and rainbow banner

So why can’t other important figures speak out about gay rights, as I bet the famous late cellist, conductor and outspoken dissident and defender of human rights Mstislav Rostropovich (below) would have done.

Mstislav Rostropovich

How about the opera superstar soprano Anna Netrebko?

anna netrebko

And how about the globe-trotting and critically acclaimed Russian orchestra conductor Valery Gergiev?

Gergievin NY

You may recall that in the Russian election both of those artists supported the strongman Vladimir Putin as their candidate. (Below top is a photo of Valery Gergiev, on the right, with Vladimir Putin, below bottom, Vladimir Putin greets Anna Netrebko with flowers)

Valery Gergiev and Putin

Anna Netrebko and Vladimir Putin

Isn’t that special? as The Church Lady used to say on “Saturday Night Live.”

Well, The Ear wonders why the two world-renowned classical musicians don’t go to their favored candidate and enlighten him about gays and lesbians? About gay rights as human rights?

I mean is it is not as if they are personally ignorant of or uninvolved in the important role that gays and lesbians play in the world of classical music and opera, and in the performing arts in general.

It is impossible to believe that both Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev don’t count gays and lesbians among their closest friends and collaborators.

Why are they holding back?

What are they afraid of?

They are being hypocritical and should be ashamed. (Below is a YouTube video, with almost one million hits, of Anna Netrebko singing the famous aria “Sempre Libera” — Always Free — from Giuseppe Verdi‘s popular opera “La Traviata.)

gay rights march in russia,jpg

Or could it possibly be that they actually support Putin’s oppressive and repressive policy – now official law – that makes it a crime even to speak about homosexuality openly for fear of spoiling and recruiting young people?

Why don’t they speak out against the violent and thuggish beatings that the intolerant Russians have inflicted on gays and lesbians? Why don’t they support gay rights protests and protesters in Russia? And if they have, who don’t we know about it?

It would sure be news, even if it meant bad box office in their native land.

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

And if it is the case that Netrebko and Gergiev have remained silence and uninvolved, then The Ear says: It is time to boycott their productions, concert appearances and their recordings. It would be similar to the boycott of Russian vodka that gay rights advocates have called for (below).

pro-gay protest in russian with vodka boycott

What do you say?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Jacob, many, many thanks about your mention of last Friday’s 1st Unitarian Society’s luncheon recital. I’d misunderstood FUS Music Dir. Dan Broner who I though had said the previous week was the final concert until Oct. The Driftless Winds trio–oboe/clarinet/bassoon– from UW-Platteville were simply superb. Truly world class. Oboist Laura Medisky also plays with the Black Marigold Woodwind Quintet. She & her talented colleagues were just great. Keep up the great work.

    Larry Retzack


    Comment by buppanasu — May 4, 2014 @ 11:27 am

  2. I don’t agree with this line of thinking. Forcing artists (who never personally, to my knowledge, voiced any anti-gay sentiment) to declare themselves about anything is absurd. Anti-homosexuality is only one of human rights topics in today’s world. If those musicians ‘must’ declare themselves on this topic, why shouldn’t we force all artists to declare themselves on a number of serious issues? Should we force American actors – each and every one of them – to declare themselves about the American troops, their night raids and killings in Afganistan? That’s absurd. Every person whose livelihood is not politics should have the right to ‘remain silent’. It would be good if they were more vocal on this issue, but the idea that they simply must is weird. Naturally, we can ask them of their opinion, but we don’t have the right to bully them. When Gergiev and Netrebko move into politics, then, and only then, can they be held accountable.


    Comment by Irina — September 27, 2013 @ 8:59 pm

    • It should be said that Gergiev has moved into politics, openly endorsing Putin in recent elections (as has, to my disappointment, violist Yuri Bashmet).


      Comment by Mikko Utevsky — September 29, 2013 @ 12:50 am

      • Mikko beat me to the punch on this one. From the Wall Street Journal on September 26: “…two well-known Russian artists, the conductor Valery Gergiev and the soprano Anna Netrebko, both of whom are unabashed and enthusiastic Putin supporters.” If the WSJ is correct, these artists have already “declared themselves on this topic”.


        Comment by Steve Rankin — September 30, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

  3. Jacob, This is a highly emotional/subjective issue but you’re dead right. Celebrities like Rostropovich/Sakharov did do the right things and Gergiev’s and Netrebko’s careers might well be beyond injury from Putin and government black-listing. I guess on the bottom line, it may simply be a lack of courage/intestinal fortitude?


    Comment by Larry Retzack — September 22, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

  4. Jake, I completely agree with you. My guess, for what it is worth, is their silence is due to fear and their fear leads them to choosing to keep their careers free of politics and Putin’s prejudice. But, along with ‘star status’ comes responsibility. Your article reminds me of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and whatever her relationship was with Hitler. She was said to be a favorite singer of his and possibly a member of the Nazi party. There were many rumors and yet she chose to remain silent on the subject. I understand fear for one’s career. … whatever happened to Garcia Lorca? … and many others? Very disturbing. But, with stardom comes responsibility. Their voices can make a difference.
    Margaret Ingraham


    Comment by Margaret Ingraham — September 22, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

  5. What are they afraid of? Losing their careers, losing their freedom, losing their lives, for starters–this is the country where jealousy at the ballet ended
    with acid in the face!


    Comment by Mary Gordon — September 22, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    • Hi Mary,
      I understand your point and agree that the stakes can be high and the fears real.
      But Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev chose to support Vladimir Putin the tyrant.
      And they pretty much have international careers now and are probably out of reach, I would suspect.
      The Bolshoi director who was attacked with acid was more of an internal affair, and not the result of a government action.
      I still think that both Gergiev and Netrebko could and should speak up and speak out for their gay and lesbian colleagues and urge tolerance in Russian and on the part of Putin and legislators.
      High-profile figure can help — and in this case I think they should.
      No struggle for civil rights or human rights is ever easy.
      But people of integrity like Mstislav Rostropovich and Andrei Sakharov would have known what to do — and would have done it, even at the cost of exile and personal risk.
      Let’s see what other readers think.


      Comment by welltemperedear — September 22, 2013 @ 10:40 am

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