Peter Gelb: The Met is at war with Russia

Peter Gelb: The Met is at war with Russia


norman lebrecht

June 30, 2022

From the Metropolotain Opera general manager’s interview with Jeffrey Arlo Brown in Van magazine:

‘We may not say we are at war with Russia, but we are. It’s more than just the one drop that breaks the camel’s back. An attempt is being made here to wipe out an entire civilization, the entire people of Ukraine. As far as I know, what Putin is up to is like nothing that has ever happened before. I got the impression that there is no possibility of further cooperation with Russia and in this case with the Bolshoi Theater, although I appreciate the head of the Bolshoi, Vladimir Urin. But because it’s a state-sponsored organization and because Netrebko is a close personal ally of Putin, both in terms of her actions and her mindset – and I know this from personal experience.

‘Anna debuted at the Met before I came here, but I’ve continued to work with her and in many ways made the Met a kind of home base for her. In 2006 I told her that if she committed to doing two operas a year at the Met, I would engage her in new productions and they would also be broadcast on our HD streams. That’s what I did then. At the same time, I was very aware the whole time that you are actually right in what you just said about her personal political closeness to authoritarianism and to Putin. When Putin criminalized homosexuality 10 years ago, he did not implement this law himself. The Bolshoi continued to perform Nureyev ballets and all that kind of stuff.

‘I’m not saying it’s right in any way. I’m just saying that there’s a difference between working with institutions in a country with morals beyond questionable and working with institutions in a country trying to wipe out a people. You may disagree, but for me, a red line has been crossed.’

Read on here.

Photo: Gelb, Netrebko, 2019


  • Ernest says:

    Why stop at Netrebko? There are other Russian singers who are close to Putin …

    • Descartes says:

      Why not?
      Not enough reasons?

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Absolutely they should be boycotted too. Not all Russian singers and other classical musicians are guilty of this and their careers should in no way be undermined. But for the rest of them there seems to be an astonishing lack of moral character and human decency embedded into the very soul of that quite oppressive country – and throughout the great majority of its recorded history.

    • MuddyBoots says:

      And some of them, like Hibla Gerzmava, are also gone from the schedule.

  • Skeptic says:

    Anyone heard from John Berry recently?

  • MWnyc says:

    “An attempt is being made here to wipe out an entire civilization, the entire people of Ukraine. As far as I know, what Putin is up to is like nothing that has ever happened before.”

    Well, not since World War II.

    A conquering nation trying to wipe out the people and culture of a conquered nation is a phenomenon that goes all the way back to the Assyrians, if not further. And it goes up the the US in the 19th century and the USSR and PRC in the 20th and 21st. (That list is not meant to be comprehensive, by the way.)

  • Peter says:

    “As far as I know, what Putin is up to is like nothing that has ever happened before.”

    Ehm… that one country has invaded another country to conquer them and get more land?

    This is the sole purpose of war. How is it possible to show such lack of knowledge.

    • Nick says:

      Think again, Peter!!! And think hard BEFORE you comment!! Your comment is ridiculous, and not only on the surface!!

      • Peter says:

        “An attempt is being made here to wipe out an entire civilization, the entire people of Ukraine. As far as I know, what Putin is up to is like nothing that has ever happened before.”


        Turks killing 1 mill armenians



        Khmer Rouge

        No, never happened before… do you want me to go on?

    • Diana says:

      Except War in the 21st Century can wipe out the entire Civilization in minutes!
      I agree with the Met’s decision. And I used to be one of Anna’s biggest fans!

    • Tirediofitall says:

      We’ll, then, if there is historical precedent, let them just march on. Heaven forbid the human race should evolve.

  • JS says:

    It’s clear that saying “we” he didn’t mean the MET but USA – and he went on to talk about what impact this has on MET. And as for Frau Netrebko, he knows her better than we do, he worked with her for fifteen years and talked to her at least twice after the war broke out. So we can assume that he has good reasons for acting the way he does. Even after the outbreak of war the MET did not cancel “Onegin” with Golovatenko, so there is no question of banning everything russian. Europeans behave differently because here Russians have a very big influence in bussines and politics – all far right supports putin (FPÖ, LePen, Salvini).

    • Nick says:

      Do not forget that Putin is a FAR LEFT gangster!! So most of his supporters are on the RADICAL LEFT!

      • MWnyc says:

        Putin is not at all on the left. He is a tsarist, except that he wants to be the tsar.

      • JS says:

        How putin is far left? putin is a tsar with palaces dripping with gold and accumulated enormous wealth. He rules a mafia state where some people make gigantic fortunes and most people live in poverty. And this russian money (better not to inquire how acquired) buys influence in the West, including funding political parties – those that can destroy the European Union from within. For the most part, it’s the extreme right because the extreme left has no real influence these days.

      • Brettermeier says:

        Are you on drugs?

      • Krunoslav says:

        To say that Puti is a leftist of any sort is preposterous and ignorant.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Unfortunately they have that influence in the U.S as well – particularly on America’s right-wing politicians and media (including the falsely named Fox “News” and One America “News” networks).

  • M McGrath says:

    Peter, Peter. Such pathos. But get your facts straight. If you think Putin is the worst when it comes to “(wiping) out an entire civilization. Just in the 20th century we had the Turks and Armenians, Hitler and the Jews, Stalin and everyone in Russia who didn’t agree. Not to mention the genocide in Rwanda just relatively recently. Going into the 19th century gives us Russia and Jews in various pogroms in Odessa…
    I think it is of questionable value to compare one obscene, outrageous, inhuman act to another.
    And, Peter, should you move on from the fixation on this Netrebko chick? There are SO MANY OTHER SINGERS out there, Russian and otherwise, to focus on, preferably in terms of casting. Let’s find some great Russian singers who AREN’T friends with despots (if that’s your questionable metric – in which case I hope you’ve trashed your Schwarzkopf recordings!).

    • MWnyc says:

      It’s not Gelb himself who fixates on Netrebko; it’s the journalists who ask him questions who fixate on Netrebko.

      (And they do that because the wider reading public might recognize Netrebko’s name; that public won’t recognize the names of most of her counterparts.)

    • Tom Phillips says:

      He is the worst alive today – and quite comparable to the others you mention. There seems to be a profound moral deficit in the Russian national character.

    • MuddyBoots says:

      McGrath, you are not even attempting to pay attention. The Met has had Russian singers on it’s stage post-invasion, including Golovatenko (as Eugene Onegin!)and Yulia Matochkina.
      And it seemed clear to me, if not to you, that Gelb was referring to the post-WWII world, and describing how the line, for him, was the invasion of another country. Only WWII involved such an invasion. All your other examples were conflicts within a single country (or empire). Sure, those were horrible, but not exactly relevant to the Met’s programming.

  • kaa says:

    I wonder what this guy would have done had he been married to an Iraqi woman during the US invasion? But of course we already know !! Alas, he is not the only hypocrite around. But the really irritating thing is his self-righteousness !!

    • BrianB says:

      And just who is paying for Gelb’s propaganda concerts? The State Dept.? Or is he spending millions out of Met funds? I despise Putin but Ukraine is no democracy Mr. Gelb. Zelenskyy outlawed all opposition parties and candidates. It’s a dictatorship.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Not quite…

        The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, passed the bill on May 3, banning pro-Russian political parties that engage in anti-Ukrainian activities.

        Not an unreasonable move in the time of war. That still leaves plenty of parties in the Verkhovna Rada.

  • MWnyc says:

    Here’s my favorite quote from the interview:

    “I believe that I have an obligation to the public, which does not mean that everything we put on here is going to be successful. It does mean that part of my responsibility is hiring directors who honor the narratives of the operas that they’re producing.”

    Interesting how the Europe-based interviewer (who didn’t include a byline, I noticed) pushed back more than once at the idea that opera directors should honor the narrative of the operas they’re directing.

  • Just saying says:

    I guess this guy has never studied any world history if thinks what Putin is doing is like “nothing that has ever happened before”…

  • Nicholas says:

    I get the impression from Mr. Gelb’s mindless rant that he would be very happy going to war against 80% of the people inside Russia who support Putin with their actions and mindset.

  • Save the MET says:

    More Gelb word salad. He’s trying to say the right thing, but does not possess the education to write an intelligible opinion statement. Gatti-Casazza, a lawyer by education and training has been spinning in his grave for over a decade.