Updating last week's argument, which began with hero Desmond Tutu and ended up at the Met, I draw your attention to a petition set up by 75 year old composer (Charles) Andrew Rudin. Its title quickly clarifies: 'The Metropolitan Opera: Dedicate 9/23 Opening Gala to support of LGTB [don't we usually say LGBT?] people.'
The reason? The deep irony that the opera is Eugene Onegin by that not exactly closeted, but hardly 'out and proud' composer Tchaikovsky*, due to feature Anna Netrebko as Tatyana and Valery Gergiev as conductor, two artists who have explicitly lent their support to Putin's campaign.
Should they be forced into the position of decrying their leader now that he has unquestionably gone too far and taken a leaf out of Hitler's rulebook? That's a difficult one, but asserting their support for the LGBT community worldwide might release them from explicitly condemning their friend and supporter. Should they be dis-engaged if they don't speak up? No, of course not. But in that instance it would be up to the individual whether to go to their performances or buy their CDs if they carry on remaining silent. Each person must make his or her choice, but imperatives - as I wrote, paraphrasing QE2 in Gloriana, 'the word MUST is never to be used to Princes' - won't get us anywhere. Come to think of it, Deborah Warner, whose oddly anodyne production this is, might be in a better position to say something.
Working on an article for Kasper Holten's much more vivid (to me, at any rate) Royal Opera production of Eugene Onegin earlier this year (scene above with Krasimira Stoyanova, Peter Rose, Simon Keenlyside and a recumbent Pavol Breslik by Bill Cooper), I came across an essay in the annual Bard publication, in this instance devoted to Tchaikovsky and his world - I think it might have been by Alexander Poznansky, whose refutation of suspicions about the composer's sudden end I don't entirely buy - giving me more chapter and verse on Tchaikovsky's attitude to his gayness than I'd seen before. I'm indebted it to it for these lines following the usual report on the composer's decision to marry Antonina Milyukova:
Pyotr Ilyich certainly had no intentions of fighting his nature. Of Modest’s charge, the eight year old deaf mute Kolya Konradi, he would no doubt have gone no further than to admit that he ‘adore[d] him passionately’ and to write to the boy ‘ I kiss you warmly 1,000, 000, 000 times’. But he continued to have (buy?) sex with the likes of a high-school student in Vienna and a coachman on a friend’s country estate which he described as ‘nothing but a homosexual bordello’. He told Modest that he could not think of his loyal manservant Alyosha Sofronov ‘without being sexually aroused…[his] boots I would feel happy to clean all my life long’. In January 1877 he fell in love – admittedly without the wish or the hope for consummation - with the coquettish 21 year old violinist Josef Kotek [pictured with the composer up top] and remained so during the whole affaire Milyukova; Kotek was even one of the two witnesses at the wedding [official photo below].
Amazing how much we have come to know. Of course the whole confusion over Kolya and later over his nephew Vladimir 'Bob' Davydov brings in the horrid equation of homosexuality with pederasty: exactly the sort of grim muddying of the waters in which Putin's laws are currently revelling. But then, as Stephen Fry points out in a passionate polemic I've already eulogised, if you were to even bring up any of the above in the Russia of today, you could find yourself in jail. Enough; I feel my blood pressure rising even as I think about it. Action is what we need, and quickly.
I must note one funny thing that's happened since I started blogging about all this: the number of weekly Russian pageviews which had hovered for ages between the 200-300 mark has dropped to about 20. Now I only noticed the original figures because they seemed rather high - bots, possibly, thought I - but now it's the sudden drop which seems weird. But it's easy to get paranoid about these things.
Let's end, though, with the consolation of Tchaikovsky. The story behind the performer gets us into muddy waters again, I'm afraid; if I understand aright, Russian law helped Pletnev get out of a sticky situation when rape charges were brought against him by the family of a teenage boy in Thailand, where he was living at the time. As a performer, he stopped being welcome in the UK, though not in France, where I heard him conduct a typically inconsistent performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. His pianism has always been on a higher, if still sometimes maddening level; I'm sorry to hear he's stopped playing. Anyway, here he is in the Kremlin with the 12 miniatures that make up Tchaikovsky's The Seasons (properly The Months). If you want to indulge in elegy, try the June Barcarolle at 15m40s or the October 'Autumn Song' at 27m20s.
(9/8) I've just read here on the Limelight site that Gidon Kremer has enlisted his great long-term collaborator Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim, inter alia, to give a concert in Berlin on 7 October in support of Russia's jailed or persecuted opposition.
Kremer, too, has made his own observation on Netrebko's and Gergiev's support, which you can read in the link, but no harm in reduplicating it here as it rounds off everything so eloquently:
I don't want to point the finger, but it always upsets me to see talented colleagues more interested in self-promotion than in their art form becoming state delegates rather than artists. I'm highly suspicious of patriotism that identifies itself with the government. An artist, in my opinion, and historically, should be independent.
6/9 Mr Rudin's petition waxes stronger - over 8,000 signatures and 10,000 likely by the time of the Met gala. He also drew my attention to the isolated but magnificent voice, among singers, of Joyce DiDonato, great artist and clearly true Mensch (I guess you can use that word about both sexes). She has written an eloquent blogpost here, telling us that she'll be dedicating her Last Night of the Proms performance of 'Over the rainbow' to 'to all of those brave, valorous gay and lesbian souls whose voices are currently being silenced – either by family, friends, or by their government'. What a woman.
12/9 In response to the Arts Desk piece ('When artists could speak out') and my statement that if only to square my own conscience I wouldn't be attending a Gergiev concert until he says something, a reader responded: 'I’m afraid Mr. Nice is unlikely to be found at one of Gergiev’s concerts anytime soon. Gergiev was asked about it by a Dutch newspaper. Today there was an article about his festival in Rotterdam. He said the law was misunderstood abroad: “In Russia we do everything we can to protect children from paedophiles. This law is not about homosexuality, it targets paedophilia. But I have too busy a schedule to explore this matter in detail.” ' So the heinous confusion between the greatest of crimes and a natural human instinctcontinues here. Nice.
*8/9 Not according to Putin's Russia. Just read this in Private Eye: 'a new state-sponsored film by the director Yuri Arabov presents him [Tchaikovsky], ludicrously but in line with what seems to be official policy, as heterosexual. Attacked for this deception, Arabov has said it's "absolutely not the case" that the composer fancied men, adding: "I am opposed to the discussion of such things, particularly in the arts." Who said the old ways of the Soviet Union were gone?'
And - 18/9 - Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky has jumped on the revisionist bandwagon, commenting on the film: 'There is no evidence that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual'. How many explicit references in the diaries and letters - faked, no doubt - does he want?
Tom Service has the right idea of how to answer this in today's Guardian: Beethoven made up his deafness to bolster his reputation! Brahms wore fake beards! Britten kept secret his marriages to several women! And so the game goes on. My own contribution: Mahler concocted his Jewishness because as the bored son of a perfect Viennese Catholic bourgeois banker, he wanted to kick against the grain.