Demonstration in Vienna against Anna Netrebko’s return

Demonstration in Vienna against Anna Netrebko’s return


norman lebrecht

September 06, 2022

Larry L. Lash reports exclusively for Slipped Disc from a demonstration outsie the Staatsoper as the Russian soprano made a sold-out return. Photos by  Iryna Karpenko:


06 September 2022
Slipped Disc

“We are not against Netrebko”, said Mykhailo Karioti though an amplified bullhorn. “We are against war, against propaganda”.

The native of Lviv in western Ukraine was addressing audience members arriving at last night’s opening of the new season at Wiener Staatsoper, a last-minute substitute performance of “La bohème” with Anna Netrebko and Vittorio Grigolo as Mimì and Rodolfo.

Karioti was supported by at least 50 people in a single-file line stretching the length of Herbert von Karajan-Platz from the Ringstraße to the opera house’s stage door. Many were displaced Ukrainians, some draped in the now-iconic yellow-and-blue flag of their homeland, all carrying placards and photos suggesting the Russian soprano’s lack of clarity and support of Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation”.

For 80 minutes, I held aloft an enlarged photo of Netrebko and pro-Russian separatist Oleg Tsaryov, grinning as they stretched the flag of Novorossiya, a bouquet of roses tucked under the soprano’s arm with husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, peering over her shoulder.

Keeping within Vienna’s guidelines for authorised demonstrations, the volume of the amplified speeches was so low they were almost inaudible against the street noise. Passers-by stopped and snapped photos as men and women took turns speaking in German, Ukrainian, Russian, and English. Among the onlookers was 89-year-old real estate magnate Richard Lugner, often referred to as Austria’s Donald Trump, who slowly strolled the length of the line.

While she made a statement against war in general, Netrebko’s ambivalence has led to many opera houses and concert halls closing their doors to her, particularly notable being New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper.

The questions most repeated during the demonstration were “Against what war? Who started it? Who is responsible”? Netrebko remains mute on all of them. Others asked why she will not say the word “victim” or acknowledge that children and old people are being killed, let alone by whom.

Karioti was also dismayed that many Austrians believe that America instigated the war, and that Ukraine dropped the first bombs and holds Russians in concentration camps. “They say Ukraine must surrender”.

An elderly Austrian woman showed a sign which stated “Netrebko is not political but she donates money to terrorists”. Another poster showed a caricature of the diva against a red background, not with musical notes but missiles streaming from her mouth.

Members of the media including Austria’s national broadcasting network, ORF, outnumbered police.

The demonstrators remained peaceful, even when a woman arriving at the opera repeatedly screamed, “You are against music! Bravo Netrebko” in a shrill voice, raising a middle finger. Another woman confronted a speaker with such threatening words that she was quickly encircled by police who led her away. A brief chant of “Schande Netrebko” (“Shame on Netrebko”) was offered in return.

“It’s a shame for opera, for Vienna to invite this woman to sing” opined Ada, a business and economics university student accompanied by her sister, Martha, born in Vinnytsia in west-central Ukraine. “It’s time for Europeans to say which side they’re on”.

Martha held a handmade sign in English: “Too Sensitive For Vienna Opera”. She clarified that in social media, people too quickly deem content such as Netrebko’s silence on the war “too sensitive” and concentrate on money and pleasure. “They are not interested in the lives of others”, she said. “Germans and Austrians say that prices have gone up because of Ukraine. We find this disrespectful”.

At 18:25 bells inside the opera house announced the impending start of the performance. The demonstrators sang a stirring, emotional rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem before dispersing.

Wiener Staatsoper’s sold-out run of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1963 production of “La bohème” continues through 18 September; Eleonora Buratto is scheduled for one performance as Mimì; Samir Pirgu is scheduled for one performance as Rodolfo.“La bohème” replaces scheduled performances of Halévy’s “La Juive” due to the illness of Roberto Alagna and Sonya Yoncheva; other members of the cast of “La Juive” are taking roles in “La bohème”.


  • Alfredo says:

    Otherworldly experience! All of them were beyond fantastic. The audience went mad. The artists showed explicit solidarity with Anna. She is the best singer today.

    La Boheme one can only dream of. Thank you Vienna State Opera for courage.

    It is always easy to attack artists as they are most vulnerable and unprotected.

  • Singeril says:

    Last minute replacement?

  • Maria says:

    Is that the best people can do in daylight with their time, and attack artists? No jobs to go to? I bet the opera went really well.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Many people do not view their “job” as the center of their universe, no matter how important they consider their profession. Family, society, integrity, humanity and conscience inform the actions of many citizens.

      It’s called a civilized society. Check it out.

  • Hermann Lederer says:

    By the way: I saw not even 50 people protest – rather 30 or less . There was more police than protesters and literally nobody was interested.I wish the handful of journalists who bring this subject up every week would investigate with the same fanatism they use on AN their own moral standards

  • Frank says:

    About what you’d expect from the Vienna Opera, I guess, a sister organization to the orchestra that forbade women for decades (and slow-walked allowing them in for a lot longer). Glad the Met management here in NYC is made of stronger principles.

    • Andre jackson says:

      Oh whatever…she’s DOES NOT HAVE TO STATE HER OPINION IF SHE DOESN’T WANT TOO!! No one should lose their livelihood for that!

      • John Rudolph Quinn says:

        Good point, Andre! We need to take into account that many of these Russian artists might not have spoken against Putin, not because they support him, but out of fear for the safety of their loved ones who are still living there.

  • guest says:

    This is the world of classical music, especially opera. Money, power (let’s not forget that opera houses in Europe are state-funded), zero integrity.
    Talk about “great art”, “beauty”, “great artists”. Haha.
    Austrians, Italians. Why this doesn’t surprise me.
    Israel is also preparing to welcome “great artists”, La Putina and her “husband”.

  • chico says:

    I’m angry at these people judging Anna Netrebko. I’m supporting all efforts for Ukraine. But these voices are ignorant of her person, her character. She is being smeared as a Russian person, who doesn’t support the war or Putin, but cannot escape some identification with her country, being famous. And as a russian citizen, she must try to ride that fine line, of being non-political but moral, to stay clear of charges. She is the last person to attack for Putin’s war. Damn him!

  • Bozidar Sicel says:

    50 years ago you were hanging blacks on trees and burning them! When woman and blacks got right to vote in this pathetic democracy!? And now, the problem is that the best orchestra in the world was late with introduction of women……
    I wonder, why are they playing only music composed by man. Like, there are no female Bach, Hyden, Mozart, Beethoven and so on …… What a shame!?
    This pages are the best place on Earth for intelectualy and morally deprived people to went theirs very deep complexes.

  • Potpourri says:

    Your “reporter” is not an objective journalist since he joined the demonstration for 80 minutes. Anna Netrebko criticized the war in Ukraine but did not personally condemn Putin. She is probably aware that six oligarchs and other wealthy businessmen who criticized the war have died mysteriously this year. The most recent occurred last week when the chairman of the board of Russia’s biggest private oil company, which criticized Putin and the war, committed “suicide” by jumping from a hospital window.The demonstrators would like a martyr for their cause, ,but I don’t think Anna, her husband and their teenage son want her to be that martyr.

    • BB says:

      People who protest Netrebko’s presence in leading opera houses in Europe do not at all want her to condemn the war, Putin or anything. It doesn’t matter what she NOW says or doesn’t say. They just don’t want the presence of a pet of the Russian government (who owes her career in large part to that government’s support) in leading Western cultural institutions. It’s like spitting in the face, not only of Ukrainians but of all who are threatened by a Russian attack. Is this so hard to understand?

    • JJ says:

      The reporter is a real reporter, no need for surrounding quotes. You are a real fan, also no need for putting the word fan in quotes. Has the idea crossed your mind that, you being such a devoted fan, you can’t possibly be objective? Give it a thought.

      AN hasn’t actually condemned the war. Also, has it occurred to you that oligarchs are a different species from people employed in arts? (Gergiev excepted, who is very nearly an oligarch.) Quite a few Russians living outside Russia, like AN, who are artists (unlike AN who is just employed in arts), who hold foreign citizenship, also like AN, Russians who did condemn the war and Putin in uncertain terms (unlike AN), and nothing bad has happened to them or their families. Actually nothing whatever has happened to them, neither good nor bad. AN fans always try their hardest to push this fancy narrative of AN keeping her mouth shut in order to avoid martyrdom. Get a grip on yourself, this isn’t soap opera. The chairman of the board of Russia’s biggest private oil company has met his untimely death? What surprise in a totalitarian regime currently fighting an unlawful war, and whose only bargaining card is energy. Big, big, surprise.

    • JJ says:

      should read ‘…who did condemn the war and Putin in NO uncertain terms…’

      • Friedrich Alleswisser says:

        How many western musicians condemned the U.S. invasion of Iraq ?

        • JJ says:

          How many Western musicians had _wanted_ to perform in Iraq? How many Western musicians were greedy for Iraqi currency? How many Western musicians have circumvented the Iraqi law with the help of their influential friends to make sure they get Iraqi citizenship in addition to U.S. citizenship? In short, how many Western musicians thought Iraq preferable to the U.S. in everything, and the ideal place for having a _lucrative_ opera career? And after doing so, declared they undying love for their U.S. motherland above everything? (Or is it or fatherland?) Answer: None. Not my intention to belittle Iraqi cultural life, but Iraq isn’t exactly dreamland for _Western_ arts in general, and opera in particular, and never was even before the invasion. It’s a different culture. Nor was Soviet Russia or is post-Soviet Russia for that matter. How many Western opera singers you know who prefer a career in Russia, and how many Russians do you know who came over and have infiltrated the Western classical musical scene, supported in their efforts to get a foot in the Western door by Russian money?

          You are mistaken, AN isn’t a musician, she’s just an opportunist who is self-employed in the arts. Let’s not cheapen the word ‘musician.’

          Lastly, you seem to believe two wrongs make a right. Putin’s actions _now_ aren’t excused by U.S.’s _past_ actions in Iraq, nor should we excuse U.S.’s past actions in Iraq because of Putin’s. The only difference is that Putin’s actions are _now_ , and harping on U.S.’s past actions isn’t going to be much consolation to you if Putin presses the red button, as he has very recently threatened to do. Nor will your indignation at U.S.’s past actions keep your body from shivering through the German winter because Putin turned off your gas; perhaps you can spare a bit of indignation for the actions of a past German chancellor as well, who brought Germany in this situation, you seem to be very much concerned with a past you can’t change, and not at all with the present, unless the present involves AN and her ‘great’ misfortunes?

  • Potpourri says:

    Sorry about the duplicate letter. My tablet was not functioning properly and I thought I lost it. Choose the one you prefer.The second is an edited version.

  • Avidiva says:

    If you’re going to protest her for anything, protest the fact that she’s singing so terribly underpar these days and still getting jobs when far superior singers don’t get the chances she gets. I couldn’t care less about her political stances she shouldn’t be singing the roles she’s singing. I believe she’s one of the reasons Opera will become obsolete within the next few decades. There are no standards anymore.:-(

  • Mike says:

    I am shocked, how some people comment this. It was at evening, that’s why the people used their own time with a family to help the Land of brave in this way.
    Mrs. Netrebko has a lot of money to stay free and secure in Austria and may tell her minds clearly far away from putin. She is also protected by Austrian state, because she is a citizen of Austria.
    She has helped to fund a money for for the terrorists in Donetsk *for the rebuild of opera house * and supported the occupation of Ukrainian Crymia. Her shirt tell us *to Berlin*, what is now the modern nazis slogan of the people in russia, of them who want a new war and to show *someone something*.
    Is it for you all not enough.
    What else did she need to do?
    What would you tell if anyone will raise a money for some cultural centre of *bin Laden* in Afghanistan?
    Sometimes it is not enough to tell that she’s against war, if she do not tell who has begin this war and how are they making this war and killing civilians

  • Robert E. Lee says:

    I-am sick of the whining bunch of virtue signaling
    oafs right in this moment.
    On the planet many other wars continue to be fought.They are causing the killing of many tens of thousands of civilians without anybody taking notice. Of course, the victims are not Ukrainians and the agressors are not Russians so the victims don’t count.
    What a nauseating hypocrisy !

  • JS says:

    What a naivety to think that Netrebko could be threatened by russians in any way! I am almost sure (like 90% sure) that her famous “statement condemning the war” was worked out with the russians. How to condemn the war and yet not take any positions.
    At the very moment, AN’s sister (permanently living in Denmark) is on vacation in Krasnodar, no problem, and AN herself was recently on vacation in Turkey where she met some of her friends, members of the top russian elites like Natalia Malinova (VTB Bank) and the power couple Yana Batyrshina (ex champion gymnast and a team-mate of Alina Kabaeva) and Timur Weinstein (NTV Broadcasting Company).
    So much for her break with Russian power circles hehehe.
    The Westerners do not understand at ALL the rules of the game the Russians are playing

  • winer says:

    35 Demonstranten //// 2200 Besucher

  • Donna E. Mobile says:

    I support the protesters and their struggle against “Putin’s war”! 100%!

  • Lokman Merican says:

    If she can sing well, then she should. Political affiliations are checked out at the door. When she exists the door, she can face the music, if she is indeed a putrid puppet of Putin.