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Queer Nation Disrupts Opening Night Gala at the Metropolitan Opera in Protest Against Anti-Gay Russia

(image roy klabin twitter)

Activists from Queer Nation NY protested outside the New York Metropolitan Opera's opening night gala performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin tonight and delayed the beginning of the performance with a disruption.

OneginQueer Nation reports, via press release:

The Queer Nation NY members unfurled a rainbow flag chanted "Putin, Stop, End Your War on Russian Gays!" and "Anna, Your Silence is Killing Russian Gays! Valery, Your Silence is Killing Russian Gays!" just before the opera began, delaying the start of the performance. Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko, who appeared in the Gala production of Eugene Onegin, which was written by the gay composer Peter Tchaikovsky, are longtime and vocal supporters of Vladimir Putin, Russia's president.

The disruption was met by a flurry of boos and a hearty round of applause. The protestors were led peacefully out of the opera house. There were no arrests. Earlier in the evening, Queer Nation NY protested outside of the opera house. Carrying rainbow flags and placards, the group attracted attention from the arriving audience as well as the media there to cover the Gala.

The NYT reports:

The outburst in the opera house capped an evening of picketing outside it, as opera patrons in black tie and ball gowns were met with chanting protesters and a 50-foot rainbow banner that said “Support Russian Gays!”

The seeds for the protests on Monday night were planted when Andrew Rudin, a composer who is gay, started an online petition urging the Met to dedicate the performance to gay rights in Russia. The petition, which has been signed by more than 9,000 people, noted that Tchaikovsky, a gay Russian composer, was being performed by artists who supported a Russian government that had passed antigay laws.

“Here’s a chance for the Met, in an entirely benign and positive way, to use its great cultural influence to be relevant, and to do something positive,” Mr. Rudin said in an interview on Monday.

Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, wrote an article for Bloomberg news over the weekend explaining why The Met refused to make a statement:

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.

Read his full statement here.

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  1. REALITY CHECK: Gays are being murdered for being gay on the streets of New York City. How about protesting that?

    Posted by: Paul | Sep 23, 2013 9:42:23 PM

  2. cop out by the met.
    afraid of angering the diva

    Posted by: woody | Sep 23, 2013 9:50:57 PM

  3. Let me get this "straight". A gay group is protesting a performance of an opera written by a gay composer? And it is not exactly like opera companies are bastions of heterosexuality.

    It reminds me of the time when Act Up stupidly decided to disrupt a performance at the San Francisco opera as an AIDS protest (it was the Reagan administration, not the opera, that was responsible for doing little to nothing). While they probably thought they were inconveniencing wealthy patrons, to get in they got in line early and bought up the standing room tickets, preventing lower-income people who enjoyed opera from getting in.

    Not smart - they ended up alienating people who would otherwise support them.

    Posted by: Bill | Sep 23, 2013 9:55:28 PM

  4. Hooray for Queer Nation. All art is political, and the Met itself knows this: Sir Rudolf Bing refused to allow the Met to perform in segregated venues, which in 1961 was as brave a statement as the one Gelb refuses to make today. The Met is supporting a vehemently pro-Putin conductor and an explicitly pro-Putin diva who are hypocritically performing in a work by a gay Russian composer. The least the Met could have done would be to have dedicated the opening night to oppressed LGBT people everywhere. They have power in this situation, and their statement would have had a powerful impact. Probably their hateful plutocratic benefactor David Koch forbade them to say such a thing. I hope LGBT people--classic supports of opera--operatically protest the Met's craven cave-in.

    Posted by: David Groff | Sep 23, 2013 10:03:10 PM

  5. @David Groff: The conductor and the soprano of the Opera are long-time supporters of Putin. That's possibly one of the reasons why Queer Nation disrupted opening night at the Met Opera.
    Mr. Putin is none too popular these days.....

    Posted by: David From Canada | Sep 23, 2013 10:09:51 PM

  6. @Paul

    There is no state sanctioned hate in NY and the police and most of the citizenry aren't out to get you.


    Posted by: Maggley Ballager Jr. | Sep 23, 2013 10:12:03 PM

  7. The protest would have been worth it just to look at that piece of beef cop with his head turned. Queer Nation would protest anything. They can bite the hand that entertains them -- Opera Queens.

    Posted by: DQ | Sep 23, 2013 10:14:33 PM

  8. @Paul
    And since when does caring about LGBT people in one place (New York City) mean we can't care about them in another place (Russia)?

    Posted by: David Groff | Sep 23, 2013 10:14:37 PM

  9. Sorry, but my original remark was meant for Bill. But David Groff explained it very well indeed, so now we're all a little wiser.

    Posted by: David From Canada | Sep 23, 2013 10:15:39 PM

  10. Bravo! The only people deserving a bravo at the Met Opera tonight are those brave queer nationals!

    Posted by: Tim Miller | Sep 23, 2013 10:18:46 PM

  11. "Probably their hateful plutocratic benefactor David Koch"

    You're woefully uninformed. David Koch is *not* an opera fan, he's a ballet fan, that's why he gave a large chunk of money to the New York City Ballet and had the State Theater slap his name on it. Some quick Googling found no evidence of Koch money given to the Metropolitan Opera, just rebuilding money for the plaza that the Met is part of as part of the State Theater renovations.

    "I hope LGBT people--classic supports of opera--"

    You're living in the past. Younger gay men (say, those under 40), don't really give a damn about opera, that was a baby boomer thing.

    Posted by: Henry Holland | Sep 23, 2013 10:20:34 PM

  12. Peter Gelb needs to learn the history of his own house, from Rudolf Bing issuing a press release that the Met on Tour would no longer perform before segregated audiences in 1961, to Marian Anderson's debut in 1955, the first black artist to perform onstage in the Met's history, and Lily Pons during the 1940/41 season who would end her performance in La Fille de Regiment by singing Le Marseillaise and carrying the flag of the Cross of Lorraine, not the flag of Vichy France.

    All art is political, Mr. Gelb. Learn the history of your host.

    Posted by: Elsewhere1010 | Sep 23, 2013 10:22:02 PM

  13. @David Groff : the "protest" mainly disrupted the people attending the performance, with possibly a tiny hit on the Met's finances due to additional overtime for various employees (the extent of that depends on how long the disruption lasted).

    I wouldn't have a problem with a protest outside the opera house, but inconveniencing what is most likely a gay-friendly audience is a no-no. If you have some gay students who could not get standing room tickets because those were bought up, and who can't afford the price of a seat, denying them access is even more of a no-no.

    Also, even if one Russian-born singer is pro-Putin for whatever reason, that singer is going to see lots of openly gay people on the Met's staff. Don't think that doesn't make an impression: its pretty hard to demonize people who everyone around you thinks are nice and whom you work with daily for several weeks.

    Posted by: Bill | Sep 23, 2013 10:25:43 PM

  14. I find this actually to be very distasteful and only makes the LGBT community look bad. For one thing, I don't support protests of any kind period. They serve no purpose and only alienate people even more. Secondly, the people visiting this opera have nothing to do with what is going on in Russia. In fact, for all the Queers know, many of those patrons may be against Russia's policy and may have been very turned off by their acts. Protesting an opera because two people associated with it that the majority of people don't even know is a total waste of time and resources. Total fail.

    Posted by: wheelie81 | Sep 23, 2013 10:35:23 PM

  15. @Henry Holland
    David Koch gave $100 million to Lincoln Center, of which the Met is a part. He is a board member of Lincoln Center ( No manager of the Met is going to cross his employer's libertarian megabenefactor whose name he sees emblazoned on the New York State Theater every morning when he walks to work. Which is the problem with megabenefactors.
    The protest would make a modest impact on the poor, momentarily "inconvenienced" black-tied and begowned gala-goers, but it will mostly a consciousness-raising one, just like (as you say) being surrounded by gay Met employees may make the pro-Putin conductor and diva think twice about their craven and convenient homophobia. But the impact of such protests is not just in the moment but in the reverberations in the media and in the minds of people--not to mention in the Met and other arts organizations that will think twice before inviting pro-Putin artists to perform. Actions like this have an incremental and mighty effect. We've seen it in protests against apartheid. And this is something that the Met in 1941 and Rudolf Bing in 1961 had the vision to see and the guts to stand up for.

    Posted by: David Groff | Sep 23, 2013 10:37:56 PM

  16. What? This protest makes no sense. These performers have nothing to do with the laws in Russia. Go protest the Russian embassies, consulates, and visits by prominent Russian politicians.

    Posted by: Reality | Sep 23, 2013 10:53:04 PM

  17. A round of applause from me. ANY attention paid to the plight of Russian Gays and the discriminatory gay laws of Russia deserves support and I'm happy to oblige.

    Posted by: Mike Ryan | Sep 23, 2013 10:59:55 PM

  18. Has Marius Kwiecen -- the openly gay baritone who plays Eugene Onegin in this production -- said anything about this?

    Posted by: Joseph | Sep 23, 2013 11:13:23 PM

  19. Bravo for both the activists AND the Met for showing grace on both sides of a Very difficult issue ... Keep up the volume people !

    Posted by: MarkBoston | Sep 23, 2013 11:32:50 PM

  20. Those here who are condemning the protesters at an Opera are not seeing past their own noses. It makes PERFECT sense to go there ! Maximum coverage

    Posted by: MarkBoston | Sep 23, 2013 11:36:47 PM

  21. @David Groff: it's not such a modest impact on poor students when they have to get to the Met to see the performance only to find that the protesters had bought up all the standing-room tickets. And a lot of these individuals don't need any consciousness raising.

    BTW, on August 10 of this year, Anna Netebko issued the following statement on facebook: "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.”

    She's also living in Vienna, and has dual Russian and Austrian citizenship. She apparently supported Putin in the past. If you want an analysis as to why, read . It mentions nothing about gays.

    Posted by: Bill | Sep 23, 2013 11:57:52 PM

  22. Hey folks-- I bought my ticket and went in tonight and am one of the protesters mentioned above who chanted between the National Anthem--that song celebrating our freedoms--and the beginning of the opera. We were respectful of the other attendees and left as soon as we did our demonstration after an empowering swell of applause while I was yelling, I might add. And Valery Gergeiv was standing at the podium and the Russian Ambassador heard what I said, so I know that it got back to Putin tonight. That's only a couple of degrees of separation. So say what you will; until you can make that claim about what you're doing to help, I couldn't care less. ALSO--what my colleague and I did in there tonight is exactly what folks who say that we shouldn't boycott the Olympics argue that our athletes should do once we get there. So if you don't want to #dumpsochi, and you think I was wrong, well,you might want to rethink one of those things.

    Posted by: ken | Sep 24, 2013 12:07:01 AM

  23. Tbank goodness there are still genuine gay activists like Queer Nation around. The rest of you have had your brains sucked out by the intellectual vacuum called dance music.

    Posted by: Adam | Sep 24, 2013 12:37:25 AM

  24. These protests are bullying two artists who have never expressed any anti-gay opinion. Furthermore, Gergiev has EMPLOYED many gays in Mariinsky for 30 years. How many gays have the protesters employed? Netrebko has worked with gays in opera houses around the world and never showed an ounce of discrimination toward anyone. Like all bullies, the protesters choose the weak (politically) to punch and god help us all (pun intended) if they wielded as much power as Putin...

    Posted by: Irina | Sep 24, 2013 12:38:36 AM

  25. "Netrebko has worked with gays in opera houses around the world and never showed an ounce of discrimination toward anyone."

    Well good for her for remaining silent at home! So in other words, as the Jews were being marched off, she had kind words for them. No wait, she just only gave them a friendly smile.

    Posted by: MIke | Sep 24, 2013 12:52:07 AM

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