If it wasn’t Tchaikovsky, it may never have come up. But suddenly, two famous Russians -- opera diva Anna Netrebko and renowned conductor Valery Gergiev -- now find themselves in an awkward circumstance. They are both under pressure from an online petition asking the Metropolitan Opera to dedicate its opening night gala to the gay community. The gala features the two stars performing in Eugene Onegin, by Tchaikovsky, who was gay.
Both Netrebko and Gergiev are vocal supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who signed anti-gay laws this summer.
"The grotesqueness of performing a work as the opening gala of the Met’s season, it’s almost tragic-comical that they would be making their living off of this remarkable work of Tchaikovsky," said New Jersey composer Andrew Rudin, 74, who started the petition earlier this month.
"I mean, Tchaikovsky himself, were he alive now, would not be safe living in that country where he’s supposedly a cultural icon.”
Conductor Gergiev is the most powerful cultural figure in Russia and a frequent guest at the Metropolitan Opera. Any statement he makes about gay rights would carry considerable weight – at least in the west, says Simon Morrison, a Russian music historian at Princeton University.
"If in fact this performance were to take place with him at the helm that would make quite a statement," said Morrison. "I think that in Russia it would be ignored. I don’t think that anything people do in the west is likely to resonate there. In fact it might actually support Russian political defiance."
Gergiev has not commented on the petition, which has more than 6,000 names. That number more than doubled after a New York Times story about it on Tuesday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Opera says it's proud of its history as a creative base for gay artists but argues it's not appropriate for performances to be used for political purposes. Eugene Onegin is scheduled to open at the Met on September 23.