The Netrebko Question – The New York Times
Many cut ties with close associates of Putin — especially the conductor Valery Gergiev, a longtime friend and prominent supporter of the Russian president. Gergiev, who leads the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, where he nurtured Netrebko’s career, has conducted concerts over the years that were freighted with political meaning, including one in a breakaway region of Georgia and another in Palmyra, after it was retaken by Syrian and Russian forces.
Other Western institutions, though, were criticized for overreach after they canceled performances by Russian artists who were not closely identified with politics, and even with some who had spoken out against the invasion.
Now many cultural organizations face an uncomfortable question: What to do about Netrebko?
Her ties to Putin are not as deep as Gergiev’s, but they are substantial, according to a New York Times review of news reports in Russian and English and public records.
Her name appeared on a list endorsing Putin’s election in 2012, and she has spoken glowingly of him over the years, describing him as “a very attractive man” and praising his “strong, male energy.” In 2017, in the run-up to Putin’s re-election, she told a Russian state news agency that it was “impossible to think of a better president for Russia.” She has also occasionally lent support to his policies; she once circulated a statement by Putin on Instagram alongside flexed biceps emojis. In 2014, she donated to an opera house in Donetsk, a war-torn city in Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists, and was photographed holding a separatist flag.
Putin, in turn, showered Netrebko with praise and awards over the years. She was invited to sing at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and other state celebrations. Last September, on her 50th birthday, he sent a telegram calling her the pride of Russia, and describing her as an “open, charming and friendly person, with an uplifting personality and a clear-cut civic stance.” At a concert celebrating her birthday at the State Kremlin Palace, the president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, read Putin’s message from the stage.