Composer Andrew Rudin isn’t giving up or giving in to the Metropolitan Opera’s rather too-diplomatic reply to his online petition, which now has nearly 1,800 signatures and is rumored to have piqued the interest of a certain major daily — and, he hopes, Rachel Maddow. (Rachel, are you listening? It’s about time you covered a hot arts topic, right?)
As the CFR mentioned yesterday — inspired by commentary by ArtsJournal.com’s Douglas McLennan — Rudin’s petition aims to pressure the Metropolitan Opera into dedicating its fall gala to the “support of the LGTB [sic] community.” This is a direct, succinct challenge to the fact that two guest artists in the Met’s upcoming production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin – conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko – support, or have supported, Russian President Vladimir Putin. As many people know, Putin has rammed through the Russian Duma some of the most virulently antigay legislation seen in the West in years, to such an extent that President Obama felt obliged to cite it in the context of his canceled meeting with Putin over the Edward Snowden matter, and now even Time magazine is telling NBC how and why to politicize the Sochi Olympics this winter, given the many gay athletes slated to compete and attend.
To be sure, the Met paid attention to Rudin’s petition but paid it little mind. We still find it fascinating that the petition itself prominently features the full text, including phone number, of the Met’s position:
“The Met is proud of its history as a creative base for LGBT singers, conductors, directors, designers, and choreographers. We also stand behind all of our artists, regardless of whether or not they wish to publicly express their personal political opinions. As an institution, the Met deplores the suppression of equal rights here or abroad. But since our mission is artistic, it is not appropriate for our performances to be used by us for political purposes, no matter how noble or right the cause.”
Senior Executive Assistant to Peter Gelb
The Metropolitan Opera
Tel +1 212 870 7647
We may think that the petition could be stronger or more pointed, but there is no doubt it is getting traction from the wider world. Rudin, meanwhile, has now responded to the Met in a full-length interview with The Clyde Fitch Report. (We also urge you to read Rudin’s bio.)
1) In its reply to your petition and its hundreds of signatories, the Met says its mission is “artistic” and thus it would be inappropriate to use performances “for political purposes.” Do you find this response valid and plausible or slippery and disingenuous?
There is little doubt that the Met cannot have anticipated this dilemma, such productions being planned, and cast and contracted years in advance. I believe that their response is, indeed, disingenuous, trying somehow to appear supportive and at the same time appear nobly “above the fray.” I’m frankly gratified that they responded at all, which indicates to me that they are actually following events and their consequences more closely than they’re willing to publicly acknowledge unless things become more difficult for them. I’m sure they’re hoping it will all simply deflate and pass away as a minor annoyance, allowing them to concentrate on what we’d all rather be concentrating on. But it is Netrebko and Gergiev who have, perhaps unwittingly, thrown down the gauntlet by courting the favor of Vladimir Putin. What I’m seeking is not to burrow into the dark implications of this but to simply shine a light of positive solidarity on an issue that one would hope the Met would feel the need to respond to.
2) Do you believe all artists — regardless of discipline, ethnicity, geography, ethics or religion — should be held directly responsible for the decisions of their political leaders? If your answer is “yes,” do you therefore assert that anyone who voted for Mitt Romney explicitly endorsed Romney’s plan to cut all public arts and PBS funding?
Certainly not. And I fully believe that even in these circumstances Gergiev and Netrebko will present a beautiful artistic product. I’ve greatly valued the more frequent participation at the Met by Russian artists, following the thaw that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. They know their artistic legacy with an authenticity that no others can bring. But when artists declare in highly visible public ways their political allegiance to one leader or cause, they make themselves the object of political discussion and cannot reasonably then expect us not to seek to know what their opinions are. Herbert Von Karajan and Elizabeth Schwarzkopf were, for exactly a difficult situation, not welcome at the Met in the years following World War II. And numerous other great artistic personalities, like Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwangler, found to their undoubted great regret that regarding politics as something of a momentary annoyance that would pass while art endures is not always the path to take.
3) Do you believe it is possible — or essential — to separate the politics of the artist from the virtue of their art? Can one believe, for example, that Albert Speer was a great architect even if he served a Holocaust-inducing regime?
No…I believe quite the opposite, and I think that artists who hope to be able to do such can easily deceive themselves, as was the case with such generally admirable figures as Strauss or Furtwangler. If the injustice becomes large enough and yet the artist lends the only thing of value he actually has to contribute — his art — then ever after what he has created becomes stained. Rostropovich would not have. Toscanini did not. Picasso would not allow Guernica to return to Spain. The recently constructed World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., simply repels a great many of us as being entirely too “Speer-like” to appropriately commemorate our country’s role in that conflict. Of course, cultural ignorance is bliss. And if one is aware of such connections, one participates naively in the perpetuation of the myth of the separateness of the world of art and politics. Art is, after all, central to the world of thought and ideas; art is, at times, the realm of the highest, most eloquent exposition. Art can be argued to be all that remains beyond the demise of the very cultures that produced it.
4) If you could sit down right now and ask Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko a single question, what would it be? How might their answers surprise you?
“What would either of you, Maestro Gergiev and Ms. Netrebko, say to the many homosexual people you work with daily in your profession, people who support you and enable you at so many turns, both on the international stage and in your home in the Russian Federation?”
Quite frankly, I’m incapable of imagining an answer that might surprise me, for I doubt that either of them could possibly imagine being placed in such an impossible situation when they decided to court the favor of President Putin. Their only recourse at this point is to remain silent or run afoul of what is now law in their own country. But to do so is to tacitly endorse policies that perhaps neither truly believes in. It’s rather the way Wagner was only too happy to employ the finest Jewish musicians to realize his dream of Bayreuth, but still write his abominable anti-Semitic polemics.
5) You want to turn Rachel Maddow’s attention to the petition. Why do the major networks do such a pathetic job reporting hot issues in the arts? Is it your feeling that people like Maddow see the arts as a disposable frill?
Partly because capitalism and consumerism dominates virtually everything in our country, value and power is invariably seen through the lens of wealth. Even the New York Times places such news under the heading “Arts & Leisure,” as if interest in and preoccupation with such matters is something you do for recreation or diversion or if you have nothing better to do. Popular culture in all things is more easily and profitably marketed, and even within the so-called “high arts,” it’s the person with the most money who gets the most attention, as was the absurd fiasco of Alberto Vilar’s “generosity” and such offenses as the renaming of The New York State Theater for David Koch. If one or more of the Met’s major donors were upset about this situation, something would be done about it, you can be sure. However, Rachel Maddow seems more likely than most to connect the dots between mass-marketed events, such as sports, popular music or other more esoteric, all-but-insignificant blips on the cultural radar. I was startled a couple of years ago when she picked up the work of a young woman friend of mine, a student at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, who had cleverly written a “Gonzales Cantata” using the testimony Alberto Gonzales gave to a Congressional committee as text. Maddow is sensitive to such connections more than most. I can guarantee you that were she to see the Met’s participation in, and tacit endorsement of, such cultural dissonance, it would hugely increase the likelihood of the Met rising to a more commendable posture. One can only imagine what would happen if the likes of a pop figure like Lady Gaga decided that attending the Met’s season opening gala would connect to her pro-gay, activist agenda. These are the forces that drive most everything in our culture these days.
And the great underlying issue here is observed with considerable sadness by someone like me, a 74-year-old gay man who is proud to see such progress after a lifetime of struggling with injustices, but also upset to see such progress met with “it’s all happening again,” particularly when involving a work by music’s most famous homosexual personality. Can anyone even imagine, in purely monetary terms, how many people owed a portion of their employment during the last year to works created by Tchaikovsky? How many millions changed hands yearly, even over the decades, in performances of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The 1812 Overture, to mention only the most ubiquitous?
To think: life as it presently exists in Russia will be even more hostile to this great artist than the persecution he suffered in his own century.