September 23 was the opening night at the Metropolitan Opera in the United States (U.S.) of the opera Eugene Onegin written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. However, it was not the singing of the tenor or the soprano that instigated the show; it was the outcry of a gay rights protester that echoed in the auditorium. As a response to Vladimir V. Putin’s latest law against Russian gays, many gay rights activistsfound this opening of the opera as the perfect platform to remonstrate against the Russian leader. However, should arts be used as a medium to speak out against rights?
▲ LGBT group protests in front of Metropolitan Opera House. Provided by Tumblr
The protester's exact words rang, “Putin, end your war on Russian gays!” And it certainly seems that the Russian president has declared such a front against homosexuals residing in the country. Earlier in June, Putin had signed an anti-gay law that stated any kind of homosexuality propaganda to be equated with pornography. This law, which has been criticized to be vague, declares that any person, such as parents or teachers who states that homosexuality is deemed not as abnormal, is subject to arrest and legal penalties.
In the next month of July, Putin passed another bill in relation to the 2014 Winter Olympics that said that any foreigners or tourists that were suspected of being homosexual were liable to arrest. The war does not stop here; on July 3, the leader signed another law that disbanded the adoption of children to not only gay parents but also single parents.
Given such harsh situations for gays in Russia, gay activists remonstrated at the opening of the opera, hoping that it would have more significance as the opera is composed by a Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who also happens to be homosexual himself. Therefore, on the night of the opening, three dozens of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) activists demonstrated by making a scene.
What is more, after criticizing the Russian president, the outcries also reprimanded the stars of the opera, Anna Netrebko, the female protagonist of the opera, and Valery Gergiev, the artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. These two figures were known to outwardly support Putin for his movements against gays. In an interview with RIV Novosti, one of the biggest news agencies in Russia, Gergiev finally commented on the protests. “I came here to work as a conductor, not as a person who will talk from early morning until late evening about other things than music.” Gergiev, regardless of his position on homosexuals, pointed out an important issue of this matter. Should high arts be used as a medium in order to convey political messages?
▲ The Metropolitan Opera House has a long history of 129 years.Provided by bilerico.com
Although propagandas were used in the times of Cold War or other world wars, today people seem to appreciate art for what it is. Indeed, it seems that the rainbow bridge line between arts and politics is now being asked to be “monotone” in this case. Along with the protest, there has been an online petition with over 9,000 signatures to date that is asking the Metropolitan Opera to dedicate the opera to the gays in Russia. Peter Gelb, the manager, albeit supporting LGBT rights, said that the Metropolitan Opera has never dedicated or used arts as a medium to support something; for 129 years of history, the opera house has focused intently on art itself. He argued that once a dedication is made, there will be a non-stop demand for other kinds of dedications; the only thing they would like to convey is an artistic message. On the other hand, the Queer Nation, the protest group, argued that in order to change Putin’s front and his anti-gay laws, they need prestigious actors such as Gergiev to alleviate situations for the homosexuals in Russia. Park Tae Woo (Division of International Studies) said, “This kind of demonstration in the U.S., is a political act of people, who pursue the arrival of the new global civic culture where people’s sovereignty is to be fully protected and guaranteed."
▲ Peter Gelb, the manager of the Metropolitan Opera House, says that Metropolitan will focus on only the arts. Provided by youtube.com
This incident of the Metropolitan also highlights the contrast between the ideology of Russia and the U.S. Park said, “Of course, the protest does have some political implication in that the level of democracy in terms of personal freedom in Russia is much more inferior to that of the U.S.” Park continued to further explain, “Comparing the degree of individual freedom advancement index in Russia to that of the U.S., we could easily come to a clear conclusion that the Russian authoritarian political system and social atmosphere would not allow the full individual rights of gays in Russia, while it is fully protected in the US.” This kind of situation emphasizes the political contrast by which U.S. is more “plural and liberal” while Russia is more “authoritarian and dogmatic.”
Making the Metropolitan Opera involved in this political act makes the problem into a whole different one and it is now about whether arts should be used as a platform for political activists to speak out their message.
▲ Vladmir V. Putin has passed many anti-gay laws. Provided by www.rferl.org