Protest Against Russian Soprano Netrebko’s Opera Performance in Berlin

In a controversial move, Berlin’s State Opera has faced strong backlash and protests for allowing Russian opera singer Anna Netrebko to perform, despite her alleged failure to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the 2022 war in Ukraine. The protestors, chanting “shame,” accuse Netrebko of not taking a firm stand against the aggression by her home country. The opera’s decision has been criticized by Berlin’s mayor, the senator for culture, and Ukraine’s German ambassador. This article explores the impact of the protests and highlights the arguments from both sides of the debate.

The controversy surrounding Netrebko stems from her previous association with Putin. Before the invasion of Ukraine, she celebrated her 50th birthday with a gala performance at the Kremlin, and she had been photographed holding a pro-Russian proxy flag. However, Netrebko claims to have met Putin only a few times and denies receiving any financial support from the Russian government. She acknowledges that her past actions and statements may have been misinterpreted and expresses regret for any confusion caused.

The protesters argue that Netrebko’s appearance at the Berlin State Opera gives legitimacy to her actions and sends a message that her association with Putin can be overlooked. They demand that the role of Lady Macbeth in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth, for which she is scheduled to perform, be recast with someone who has distanced themselves from the Russian war. Over 37,000 people have signed a petition supporting this demand, indicating the level of public sentiment against Netrebko’s participation.

Critics of the protest argue that artists should not be scapegoated for the political actions of their home countries. Matthias Schulz, the opera’s artistic director, emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between Netrebko’s actions before and after the outbreak of the war. He believes that using artists as scapegoats undermines artistic freedom and expression. Netrebko’s supporters also argue that she has not accepted any engagements in Russia since the war broke out, indicating a separation between her professional work and political associations.

Berlin’s mayor, Kai Wegner, expresses his strong criticism of Netrebko’s return to the Berlin stage. He regrets that an internationally successful performer like her has not explicitly distanced herself from Putin and the Russian war of aggression. The city’s senator for culture, Joe Chialo, symbolically attends a photo exhibition titled “Russian War Crimes” near the opera house, signaling his condemnation of Russian actions in Ukraine. Ukrainian ambassador Oleksii Makeiev urges people not to turn a blind eye to Russian war crimes and shows support for the protests.

It is essential to approach this controversy with caution and consider the implications for artistic freedom, political activism, and global relations. The decision to allow Netrebko to perform at the Berlin State Opera raises questions about the intersection of art and politics, as well as the responsibility of artists to take a stand on international conflicts. As the protests continue and public sentiment remains divided, it is crucial to engage in constructive dialogue and careful analysis of the situation without undermining artistic integrity and freedom of expression.