Anna Netrebko filed a lawsuit in the US district court in Manhattan yesterday, Friday 4 August, against the Metropolitan Opera. Her lawyers are seeking $360,000 in compensation after all future projects with her were cancelled after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As one of the opera house's biggest stars, she received the Met's top fee of $17,000 a performance.
The Russian soprano, who lives in Vienna and also has Austrian citizenship, was asked by the general manager of the Met, Peter Gelb, to publicly denounce Vladimir Putin, but Netrebko replied that “as a Russian citizen, she could not make such a statement”. Certainly caught in a difficult position, she eventually stated that she opposed the war after much pressuring. In 2012 she endorsed Putin for president, and in 2014 she was photographed holding a separatist flag when she donated money to an opera house in Donetsk in Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. She has tried to distance herself from Putin recently, noting that they had only met on a few occasions.
The suit states that the Met “harmed Netrebko's relationship among audiences, including by encouraging protests against her performances” and that “due to the Met's requirement that Netrebko issue public statements opposing the actions of Russian government, Russian politicians have denounced Netrebko, Russian theater companies have canceled contracts with her, Russian audiences have criticized her on her social media channels and in the Russian press, and Netrebko and her family and friends in Russia have suffered the risk of harm, retaliation, and retribution by the Russian government.” The suit says that Netrebko accuses the Met of discriminating against her because she is Russian and causing her “severe mental anguish and emotional distress… depression, humiliation, embarrassment, stress and anxiety, and emotional pain and suffering”.
A statement by the Met said that “Ms. Netrebko's lawsuit has no merit”.
Although she has not sung in the US or UK since the beginning of the war, she continues to sing in Italy (La Scala and the Verona Arena) and other European countries (Germany, France, Austria). However, a concert in Prague in October is in doubt after the deputy mayor asked for its cancellation as Netrebko appears on Ukraine's sanctions list.
Netrebko filed a complaint against the Met last year through the American Guild of Musical Artists, and in February an arbitrator said that for 13 cancelled performances the Met must pay her $200,000. This was because of the contractual agreement “pay or play” that requires institutions to pay performers even if they decide later to not employ them. Yesterday's complaint says that the Met still owed her most of those additional fees.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.