Artistically it is beyond any doubt. The soprano Anna Netrebko has been celebrated frenetically on international stages for years. But since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Russian-born woman, who now also has an Austrian passport, has no longer been welcome everywhere. The 51-year-old has come under criticism for her alleged closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
For the first time since the war began at the end of February 2022, the Unter den Linden State Opera has now booked Netrebko for four evenings in the role of the power-hungry Lady Macbeth. This caused heated discussions. The State Opera in Berlin and the singer have a long history. The opera house put the collaboration on hold when the war began. “We value Anna Netrebko as an outstanding singer, and we have a long-standing artistic partnership,” it said in March 2022. “At the same time, given the brutal war, we see no possibility of continuing this collaboration.”
New picture of the situation
A good year and a half and personal conversations later, director Matthias Schulz, whose company has clearly positioned itself for Ukraine at several events, has gained a new picture of the situation. “It is important to approach this in a differentiated manner and to distinguish between before and after the outbreak of war,” it is now said. Since then, Netrebko has not accepted any engagements in Russia and there are still no plans to perform in Russia. “I think it is also a very important sign that Anna Netrebko is singing on a stage that is so clearly Ukrainian,” said Schulz in an interview.
The singer tried to clarify her position in an earlier statement. “I strongly condemn the war against Ukraine and my thoughts are with the victims of this war and their families,” it said. “I recognize and regret that some of my actions or statements in the past could have been misinterpreted.”
Critics accuse her of appearing with Putin
Critics accuse her of appearing with Putin, whom she has “only met a handful of times in my entire life,” or photos that are interpreted as Russian propaganda. After a break from the world stages, Netrebko is now performing internationally again. She is celebrated by her fans as well as criticized by her opponents. Almost 1,400 seats for “Macbeth” in the State Opera were sold out on Friday.
Shortly before Netrebko’s appearance, according to police estimates, around 150 people protested against the engagement in Berlin. They demonstrated in front of the opera house with Ukrainian flags, posters and shouts like “No Netrebko!” and “Shame Netrebko” before the start of the performance. The police shielded the demonstrators from the opera audience with bars.
The Ukrainian ambassador Oleksii Makeiev and Berlin’s Senator for Culture Joe Chialo (CDU) had previously visited the photo exhibition “Russian War Crimes” at the Humboldt University directly opposite the State Opera. There, photos show the cruel consequences of attacks on civilians and infrastructure in Ukraine. Makeiev showed understanding that those politically responsible have no direct influence on the opera. He tried to explain to director Matthias Schulz why he didn’t think the performance was appropriate at all. “Unfortunately I didn’t get an acceptable answer,” Makeiev said.
“The war seems to be more and more forgotten,” said Chialo. The purpose of the visit was to “recall the atrocities once again.” He pointed out that children were killed in the attacks and cultural institutions were also destroyed. “That’s the reality there, while here in Germany we can enjoy our cultural life relatively carefree.”
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