When the curtain falls this Thursday Aida in Verona, Anna Netrebko You will feel a little relieved. Another chapter will have passed that brought Hahn into the toughest year of his career, although he still has three days to go, on the same stage, with Turandot, Puccini’s last opera. The Russian singer continues to arouse passions, although they are found recently. They cheer her, like last Monday at the Royal Theater from Madrid, where she was greeted with an ovation before she spoke, but they also nudge her, bait her or see some theaters suspend their contracts, such as the Metropolitan in New York. Putin’s war haunts her not only because she was one of the Russian leader’s biggest supporters in the opera world for decades. Also racial controversies.
Netrebko arrived in Madrid on Monday to perform a concert at the Real Universal Music Festival with her husband Yusif Eyvazof. Victory in front of a nearly full theater has relieved some of his stress, but Netrebko’s toughest year isn’t over yet. When he appeared on the last June 18th Verona Arena In order to interpret her role as a Verde slave princess with her face painted black, she was met with angry criticism and beatings on social networks for being outdated black face. Without going into their song line, they described it as racist and insensitive. They accused her of making fun of the black race on stage, through a practice which, while unchallenged in opera, has today marked the period as anathema.
The controversy grew in tone when the American soprano angel blue in protest, he gave up singing at the Italian festival earlier this year. I wanted to debut as Traviata, but it won’t. While Angel Blue didn’t even dream of painting her face white to play Violeta Valery, Netrebko could have appeared in her Slavic guise from Krasnodar, where the Russian soprano was born 50 years ago. The soprano argues with those responsible for the Veronese Festival that this has been done in Franco Zeffirelli’s original production since it premiered at La Scala in Milan in 2006. And so, out of respect for the script and the director’s original conception, he decided to do it.
They didn’t see the storm coming from the Verona Arena. Maybe after reviewing the reactions they would have been more timely. But the artistic director, Cecilia Gasdia, far from correcting anything, has been steadfast and has refused to alter Zeffirelli’s creative will, as she claims. He died in 2019 and what he would have decided is a mystery. One thing became clear during the controversy: that it sometimes takes decades for opera to adapt to social changes. Rather in places like Verona, which are less devoted to artistic risk and more dedicated to the circus of tourist attractions.
Angel Blue was clear: “The use of black face it is the fruit of archaic theatrical traditions that no longer have a place today. It’s offensive, demeaning and racist. Enough is enough,” the 38-year-old Los Angeles-born singer said in a statement. Netrebko, however, kept her guns and posed for the networks in dark makeup alongside Eyvazof. She has not commented. But he did take off on the networks a slaughter against the Californian soprano: “The first function of Aida It was June 18th. Why didn’t you quit immediately instead of waiting a month to do so? Angel Blue, that’s gross,” he snapped last week.
It’s also true that fans learned more about Angel Blue and Eyvazof through this diatribe. Netrebko imposes it in its distributions and concerts. If they want her to go somewhere, they offer two for one, as has already happened twice in Madrid.
Together they cope better with setbacks. And this year, after Putin invaded Ukraine, the Netrebko family home was filled with bad news. She handled the situation as best she could. The theaters have demanded clarity and the singer, unforeseen, found herself caught in a dilemma: loyalty to Putin or saving her career?
Netrebko has been one of the cultural landmarks of Russia in recent decades. His image in his country only began to falter when he also took Austrian citizenship in 2006: “You don’t know what a document from the European Union changed in my life,” he said in an interview with EL PAÍS. It began as a promise with director Valeri Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg. Gergiev is the central figure in the until recently very effective cultural diplomacy that the Russian president has promoted since he took office. He has more influence in his area than any culture minister and has paid dearly this year with several cancellations.
Netrebko has consistently supported his country’s policies. After Gergiev brought her to life as one of the young stars of the Mariinsky Company, her career took off internationally in 2005 in Salzburg. At that time she starred in an electrifying, sensual and provocative film Traviata along with Mexican Rolando Villazón.
From then on it marked an era. It has been number one on their voice charts for two decades. His seasons turned in the great theaters of the world – from Salzburg to La Scala in Milan and from the Met to London’s Covent Garden, Berlin or the Paris Opera – one year after the other. She has successfully managed the changes in her voice, adapting it to different repertoires, and has never taken a step from her queen pedestal. His stage power and gifted singing have never been questioned.
But since last February 24th everything has changed. His first reaction was lukewarm when he condemned Putin’s actions. His contracts with the New York Met were immediately terminated. Peter Gelb, his artistic director, had been one of his biggest supporters worldwide. But Netrebko’s words were not enough to prevent his fall not only in New York, but also in Zurich, Berlin, Baden-Baden or Hamburg, where his performance was postponed until next September 7th pending amendments.
No one was satisfied with the initial reactions of a person celebrating their 50th birthday in the Kremlin in 2021 or being chosen to sing the national anthem at the opening of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Her closeness to Putin was always considered more than obvious: “Pain and suffering break my heart. However, it is not right to force artists or other public figures to express themselves politically and to denounce their country of origin,” he asserted at the very beginning of the war.
Confirming the disaster that was on his agenda, he was more assertive, although for many theaters it was already too late: “I strongly condemn the war against Ukraine and my thoughts are with the victims of this war and their families. My position is clear. I am not a member of any political party and I do not support any Russian leader. I acknowledge and regret that my actions or statements in the past may have been misunderstood.”
But it didn’t stop there. He specified: “In fact, I have only met President Putin a few times in my life, mostly at the award ceremony for my art or at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Otherwise, I have never received any financial support from the Russian state and live and am tax resident in Austria. I love my motherland Russia and seek peace and unity only through my art. After my announced break, I will be performing again at the end of May, initially in Europe.”
Putin? Who is Putin? Netrebko clearly took sides with this: Above all, he saved his career. In any case, she was badly affected. While it may not be more than a scratch, he is aware that he still has a few years of abundance ahead of him. To relax, she once told this newspaper, she can devote herself to the hobbies she misses the most: taking pictures in the country with a Kalashnikov.
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