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.


  1. Bill says

    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.

  2. says

    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.

  3. David From Canada says

    @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…..

  4. DQ says

    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.

  5. Henry Holland says

    “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.

  6. Elsewhere1010 says

    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.

  7. Bill says

    @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.

  8. wheelie81 says

    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.

  9. says

    @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 (http://www.aboutlincolncenter.org/about/board-of-directors). 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.

  10. Reality says

    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.

  11. Mike Ryan says

    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.

  12. Bill says

    @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
    http://www.welt.de/kultur/article13882758/Wieso-Kuenstler-wie-Anna-Netrebko-Putin-unterstuetzen.html . It mentions nothing about gays.

  13. ken says

    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.

  14. Adam says

    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.

  15. Irina says

    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…

  16. MIke says

    “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.

  17. Bill says

    @ken: the people your group might have seriously inconvenienced were those who could not get a ticket because your group bought all the remaining ones up (I’d imagine you guys got standing room tickets to keep the cost down). They typically have a limit on the number of standing room tickets they can sell because of fire regulations.

  18. Bill Perdue says


    We should do all we can to help our sisters and brothers in Russia,

    And all we can to help ourselves by fighting against Democrats and Republicans who refuse to pass ENDA and fighting to end the wave of violence in this county.

    We can do all of that. They’re not mutually exclusive or contradictory.

  19. says

    Look at the meek gays who think protests are either wrong or don’t accomplish anything. If protests do nothing, why are gay pride marches (which are in reality protests) banned in Russia?

  20. Rob says

    These protests make a very powerful statement. Kudos to Queer Nation for doing so. Russian gays will be glad to hear that people are sticking up for them in such a public way.

  21. MIke says

    “@Mike: There isn’t a problem at home for her because her home is in Vienna.

    POSTED BY: BILL | SEP 24, 2013 3:00:37 AM”

    So when she performs in Russia it’s “Sorry, I don’t reside here anymore.” That’s f—ing worse. She’s not even under a threat of arrest then – she can hop on a plane back “home”.

  22. AngelaChanning says

    Oh Bill, I have the vapors thinking about the inconvenienced opera audience members. Yes, the same Met audience that will boo a performer for the slightest perceived infraction.

    Wheelie18 – You do realize that protesting was so important to the founding fathers of the US, they wrote the “freedom of assembly” into the First Amendment. (Albiet, the Met is private property.)

    Good for Queer Nation NY.

  23. says

    Something you can always count on: Queer Nation finding new avenues for its media-whoring ways. Just imagine the self-promoting tweets that got tweeted back and forth; there must have been dozens of them: “Oooh baby! Us big bad-ass queer protest group! All bark and no bite! Eat us up, b*tches!”

  24. anon says

    Actually, the Met does have a history of making political statements, such as not playing German composers during WWI and WWII, and playing works of Soviet composers that died the year before. Also, Rudolph Bing had a lot of influence over the success of new composers based on their political leanings, and he was a big jerk. Admittedly, he was more a NYC fixture than just the Opera though.

  25. says

    Netrebko has “worked with gays” because if you’re in OPERA and you “don’t want to work with gays” you’ll be without a score, without a designer, without a director and without much of an audience.

    What you permit with silence, you promote.

    So kiss my @ss “Irina” – if your post was serious (which it isn’t) you’d realize the real bullies are not the protestors. The real bullies are the Russian government – and anything that keeps a a hot bright spotlight on the insanity happening in Russia is a good thing – it keeps the dialogue(s) alive, while my brothers and sisters overseas are at risk.

  26. Bill says

    @AngelaChanning: the people being really inconvenienced were the ones who showed up to buy tickets at the last minute (probably standing-room tickets) and couldn’t get in at all.

    Simply protesting outside the opera house would have made the point and not prevented these individuals from seeing the performance – it is not like the Met would sell additional tickets to fill up the spaces taken by protesters who “encouraged” to leave.

    The people who paid $150 per seat did just fine – they got to see and hear everything. It’s the people paying roughly the cost of a movie ticket for standing room, in some cases because that is all they could afford, who were harmed. People don’t stand through operas unless they really like opera – they are not there to impress anyone.

  27. Ken says

    @Bill: Your concern for opera lovers who needed tickets is nice. But we paid for our 4 $85 tickets in Family Circle some weeks ago. And again, there were just four of us. I’ll own that ‘inconvenience’. @ Stuffed Animal–actually the folks I hang with and try to help others with don’t think that way. But it’s interesting to hear that take on it from someone who does. Thanks to everybody for working to get awareness of our Russian LGBT comrades out–just keep doing what you can–everyone’s efforts are what is getting their struggle for basic human rights all the attention that it has in less than 60 days!

  28. bobbyjoe says

    My question is this: this opera is going to be broadcast live in movie theaters across the world on Saturday, Oct. 5 as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” series. Will Queer Nation or some other group make a return performance? It’d sure reach a much larger audience and, even with a time delay, if they did it at the right time, it’d sure be hard for the Met to hide it.

  29. stevenj says

    “It reminds me of the time when Act Up stupidly decided to disrupt a performance at the San Francisco opera as an AIDS protest”

    That stupid disruption got lots of media attention as I recall. And far from alienating people it called attention to a larger audience. For some, opera is a sacred cow. I’m sure the would be standees who could not get in got over it. The wealthy continue to rattle their jewelry. And as Peter Gelb said “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.”

  30. Rick says

    Pathetic behavior and if I had been there Opening Night, I would have booed these people, myself.

    Such actions will not win us any friends and will alienate those who are already sympathetic.

    Art is art. James Levine is Jewish and specializes in conducting Wagner, one of the world’s most renowned anti-Smites. Why? Because Levine is “self-hating?” No. Because he manages to separate Wagner’s art from the individual who created it.

  31. Clarknt67 says

    I love all the clicktavists here tapping away at their keyboards suggesting what other people should be protesting (NYC hate crimes, churches….) just before they head off to the gym for a BJ and go home drink themselves into a blackout on Grindr.

  32. Bill says

    @stevenj: there was some media attention, but it was all negative. What really changed things regarding government inaction was when Ronald Reagan suddenly realized that people he had worked with when he was an actor and had been on friendly terms with were dying. It was no longer something that was happening to “them” but something that was happening to “us”, and that made all the difference.

    @Rick – Wagner wrote a rabidly anti-semitic article that was so over the top that it was fortunately widely ignored. Curiously, some of the people he worked with were Jewish and one such individual did such a fantastic job during the first production of the Ring that Wagner asked him to stay on permanently to manage future productions.

    That rather curious inconsistency might be due to the fact that Wagner, at the time he wrote his anti-semitic rant, was not getting the recognition that he thought he deserved. He might have been particularly annoyed that Meyerbeer, who was Jewish, was so much more popular at that time. Curiously, Meyerbeer had gone out of his way to help Wagner, but regardless, Wagner might have simply figured that attacking Jews in general would look less self-serving than attacking particular individuals where “professional jealousy” would have been obvious. It’s hard to say – it is pretty rare to find someone with an ego as large as Wagner’s so we don’t have a lot of data on such extreme behavior. Couple that ego with a tendency towards over-the-top ranting, and you can easily get material that is completely outrageous.

    Not everyone thought Wagner’s anti-semitic ranting was his biggest fault. Otto Wesendonk, for example, probably had a different fault at the top of his list given that Wagner’s first wife divorced him after intercepting some of Wagner’s correspondence with Otto’s wife.

  33. Richard says

    The protest had nothing to do with Tchaikovsky but was aimed at drawing attention to Putin Russia’s anti-gay laws and those artists who lend their support to a thuggish autocrat who hasn’t a clue what a democracy should be. Russia’s cultural elite like Netrebko and Gergiev deserve scorn. Peter Gelb, for once, bent over backwards, if you’ll forgive the expression, in his expressions of support for gay people, including wearing rainbow suspenders. Bravo Queer Nation.

  34. Richard says

    The protest had nothing to do with Tchaikovsky but was aimed at drawing attention to Putin Russia’s anti-gay laws and those artists who lend their support to a thuggish autocrat who hasn’t a clue what a democracy should be. Russia’s cultural elite like Netrebko and Gergiev deserve scorn. Peter Gelb, for once, bent over backwards, if you’ll forgive the expression, in his expressions of support for gay people, including wearing rainbow suspenders. Bravo Queer Nation.

  35. ganymede94 says

    Wow. Protesting at the opera house. So brave.

    But seriously, whoever planned this should get back to the drawing board. Unless, of course, the goal was to alienate genteel opera patrons who in all likelihood support homosexuals and reinforce the stereotype that all gays are drama queens.

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