I just stumbled over an interesting read on coffeeandoperatics.tumblr.com, [x], concerning this year’s season opening of the MET and the stir it caused — and it got me thinking. As frequently my replies get longer than I originally planned, I will post it here, and link back. This will only be published a week from now, as my blog is offline right at the moment, also for reasons to do with Russia, and its anti-human legislation.
Now to the article … Let’s start with the end:
That the company cannot take ANY sides in this, which would destroy the opera house’s catalytic position and bring it into the conversation.
Non-action is an action
I disagree, in parts, as … “sides,” … what sides? If the choice is about human rights versus denial of them, political stance is not a luxury. Mr. Gelb doesn’t want to take a stance? He rather tried, it seems, to go for the elegant way out, for him, and to allow things to happen — like in protests, which he secretely approves of? Well he was wrong, it seems. On the MET-scale of things, things got out of hand: [x].
Does Mr. Gelb matter?
Personally, if Mr. Gelb makes a statement or not doesn’t even matter so much for me. He disappoints me on a mild level. His actions have an impact though, and his non-action started a chain of events. Is this what Mr. Gelb wanted, that now in turn people supporting gay rights are arrested as disturbers of the peace? This has parallels to the statements of the olympic commitee, just by the way, who fears for the investors’ money if protests begin to surround the Olympics. [x]
Both events have one thing in common: They both put the shame, and the blame on gays and supporters again, and thus, support the Russian regime.
Both, Netrebko as well as Gergiev, have voiced political statements in the past — they both supported Putin.
Yet, in the face of recent events, both remain silent. I have to say that Mrs. Netrebko seems to have more guts; she voiced her stance as far as she would go on twitter. Both, Netrebko and Gergiev are under a terrible pressure. Of course, I think, quite some would rejoice if they could claim Netrebko as the figurehead of a movement — Netrebko more than Gergiev — but I’m afraid, it won’t happen.
What I see is that the recent protests have drawn an awkward picture, as if it was okay to call out Netrebko and Gergiev specifically. Is it okay? Do certain circumstances demand a clear stance? Maybe.
Historic reasons why Mr. Gelb is wrong
Posterity will most likely rename silence to cowardice, or even secret support. As I am German, Gustaf Gründgens came to mind. He was held in high esteem in Germany during Hitler’s regime, and never quite managed to wash himself clean of the stain of assumed collaboration afterwards.
Another, more extreme example is Albert Speer, who designed the pompous buildings of Nazi self-celebration like the Reichsparteitagsgelände in Nürnberg. Of course, in retrospective, he isn’t seen abstractly. He is only seen in context to his political involvement. (Speer also was in charge of Armaments and War Production later, so his contribution to the Third Reich wasn’t all artistically, of course.)
Gründgens and Speer mostly did what everyone does; they did their job, wanted to continue what they were doing with minimal fuss and minimal conflict. However, we, the posterity, seem to demand heroic actions from people living in such times, as if somehow their actions could absolve us in turn, maybe. Heroes give us hope, sheep don’t.
However, we, the posterity, or in the case of Russia in 2013, the ones in Western Europe or America, are in an awfully comfortable position, as the actions going on there don’t physically affect us. We, the on-lookers, and the judgers — and of course I am including myself in this ominous ‘we’ — are living in a society that is well-fed, and lazy. This gives us the luxury to have no political interest, and no stance, if we like; a luxury we won’t grant to Gründgens, Speer, or Wagner (more on him later on.) We just-so grant it to Gelb, but we surely won’t grant it to Netrebko. If a girl at the grocery store doesn’t clearly voice her opinion, we won’t care, but of artists we seem to demand more: We admire the Netrebkos in art, not so much the Mr. Gelbs — so naturally, we want them to be perfect; we want them to be our heroes.
So well, yes, I do understand why Mrs. Netrebko won’t get more explicit on her stance — but just as well excuse me when I muster some tiny understanding for people who lived during the Third Reich who weren’t heroes.
I won’t rightout compare Germany in 1933 to Russia in 2013, obviously; Russia in 2013 doesn’t plan to murder gays on the large scale, so of course I know the limits of my comparison. Still, I recognize a certain pattern of scapegoat politics that costs lives.
This doesn’t only concern the people actually getting killed on the street, or at home, solely because they are gay — this is about systematically ruining the lives of many, and I’m not even starting to talk about bullying here. They’re planned to be denied parental rights, e. g. — not even a convicted murderer is forced to give up their child for adoption. Another severe factor is that the recent political development inhibits programmes giving advice or support for safe sex practises; and AIDS is a huge topic in Russia.
I’m conscious that I live in luxury. I’m not living in war-times, and I am not being prosecuted, neither does the state threaten me to take away my child if it finds out I have some rather explicit pictures on my hard disk drive. I have the luxury to lead my life if I want to in a way where my biggest choice would be which episode of Sherlock is my favourite, or which type of cookies to buy. For large parts of the world, however, this is not the case. Their life isn’t that simple. And this is not only about Russia, it is about countless females around the globe enduring genital mutilation each day, about people dying of hunger or well-treatable diseases, about senseless wars that don’t afflict or even benefit us.
I’m sure Mrs. Netrebko is concerned about the world too, but first and foremost she might be concerned about friends and family maybe that live in Russia. I’m sure she has all the best reasons for her silence.
I feel for Mrs. Netrebko, but I feel for people suffering, and dying just as well, even if I don’t know their faces as they won’t get the glossy magazine shots. So what I do hope for from Netrebko’s side is an interview, maybe in 20 years’ time, when the world has changed, and hopefully for the better, where she will reflect on her involvement for Putin.
It’s just music!
Art and music is about feelings, you might say, and not about politics. Well, it is, and also it is a lot about war, death, suicides, all the extremes of human existence. Of course repertoire picks up events of the real world.
It starts with composers: Mozart’s earliest operas were written for some nobleman’s marriage, to heroize the liaison — and this is only an innocent example. Tchaikovsky’s “Year of 1812” comes to mind, etc.. Beethoven picked up the revolutionary spirit of his time more than anyone else did, in my humble opinion; he gave a soundtrack to the movement.
One of my favrourite composers of all times is Händel. He was a little bitch in one respect; back then, “aria di guerra”s were the thing — arias idealizing war in general, which the reigning class seemed to love. So what did Händel do? He wrote the most awesome “aria di guerra”s in existence, in my humble opinion, but with a twist. He made them anti-war arias. I imagine him wearing a tee with a peace sign on it, writing his “Destructive war,” one-handedly playing on the harpsichord while sipping his herb tea.
“Destructive War, thy limits know, here tyrant death, thy terrors end. To tyrants only I’m a foe, to Virtue and her friends, a friend.”
If this isn’t a guerilla move, I don’t know what is. Händel is one of my personal heroes. But we haven’t finished, because music doesn’t yet happen on the composer’s part just yet.
There is the staging of course — in our modern age this has a big impact on the whole. Most opera houses don’t have anything against right-out political statements, as long as the events criticized are comfortably in the past. Especially Wagner frequently is graced with a lot of swastikas in recent decades. Why? Because Hitler liked his music, and because Wagner made some really antisemitic remarks in his lifetime. Not many, but a few, and they are documented.
Then, the cast of course, is another factor, which is political. Mrs. Netrebko only has to read youtube comments – I sincerely hope she doesn’t – to know what prejudices based on origin are. When Gracy Bumbry sang Venus in Bayreuth, there were huge discussions. In the meantime, people have (hopefully) got used to singers who aren’t white of skin, or Western-European of type. Opera has become far more tolerant in this respect than Hollywood movies — and only because of artistic directors, and artists with guts, who stood up for their artists and for art; and because of the audience of course. It took a while. Only recently, opera stopped to make coloured singers appear more fair-skinned on stage with special makeup.
However, even with 80’s “light” stage makeup, a singer couldn’t fully hide having dark skin; sexual orientation is something different. You can well hide it; but the harm this does to a person can hardly be fathomed. Imagine you were forced to lie every single day; it is bound to turn you into a habitual liar, and to live in constant fear. In turn, others, if they find out, will accuse you of being a liar; accuse you of the action they forced you into in the first place. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In parts I wish for a greater number of out singers. But what I even more wish for is for stage directors who finally stage all those stories in opera so full of gay in an appropriate way. There’s plenty of material there, from Gluck to Britten.
Meanwhile, in America: Ramses, as well as Moses were fair-skinned, who would have guessed: [x] (It’s just a movie!)
Meanwhile, in Russia: Tchaikovsky was straight: [x] (It’s just music!)
I see a pattern.
Christoph Willibald Gluck, Iphigénie en Tauride
Unis dès la plus tendre enfance
Topi Lehtipuu, Pylades
Unis dès la plus tendre enfance,
Nous n’avions qu’un même désir.
Ah! mon coeur applaudit d’avance
Au coup qui va nous réunir.
Le sort nous fait périr ensemble,
N’en accuse point la rigueur.
La mort même est une faveur,
Puisque le tombeau nous rassemble.
United from tenderest childhood,
We never had but one wish.
Ah! my heart welcomes in advance
The stroke that will reunite us.
Then let us perish together
Nor even complain of harshness;
Death itself is a favor,
Since falling will reunite us.