The latest news from the Wiesbaden Netrebko front: The now controversial soprano is allowed to perform there. At the start of the May Festival, which is actually rather second-rate, she makes her role debut twice in a concert performance as Abigaile in Verdi's "Nabucco" - for a reported 100,000 euros. Ironically, in an opera where the Jewish people defend themselves against the Babylonian aggressors and overcome them with God's help.
The patriotic music theater written for Italy's fight for freedom now serves as a pale beacon for a soprano world star who has lost a great deal of nimbus over the past twelve months. Who would have thought that there would also be cultural casualties as a result of Vladimir Putin's war of aggression, especially in the ranks of the supposedly so apolitical classical period?
Especially with four musicians, the case was quickly clear: the over-maestro Valery Gergiev, who had long been exploited as Putin's cultural vassal, up to a "peace concert" in Palmira, which had been liberated from the brutal Assad regime, he was immediately persona non grata in the West. He was quickly removed from a "Pique Dame" production at La Scala in Milan, an ongoing tour with the Vienna Philharmonic and his managerial job with the Munich Philharmonic. He has not conducted a bar in the West since February 24, 2022.
Just like Denis Matsuev, an equally patriotically taut pianist who was a pleasure to see with him, has not touched a key in this hemisphere. Even before that, the West had lost the elderly Vladimir Spivakov (violinist and orchestra leader) and Yuri Bashmet (violist), who were loyal to the line but were already older. For them the situation was clear.
For others, from the second row, their pro-Putin behavior had little or no impact. The soprano Hibla Gerzmava no longer sings in the West, but the sought-after bass Ildar Abdrazakov does, although he too has repeatedly taken part in pro-special operations shows on loyal Russian propaganda television; Most recently, he canceled a final performance as Boris Godunov at La Scala in Milan because of such a Moscow TV appearance – without consequences.
Even the cancel culture that threatened at the beginning of the war and was sustained by Ukraine and other countries affected, such as Poland, towards everything Russian aesthetically pleasing, be it literature, film, opera, dance, concerts, exhibitions, has not otherwise caught on in the West. One knows very well how to separate older art from current politics. So there are still "Swan Lake" and "Three Sisters" and Rachmaninoff piano concertos.
Only real Soviet statecraft, it's having a hard time here at the moment. In a recent concert with the Tonhalle Orchestra, conductor Omer Meir Wellber replaced Prokofiev's homage cantata Alexander Nevsky because it had been used to glorify the USSR in Soviet times. At the Bavarian State Opera, Sergei Prokofiev's Politopus "War and Peace", conceived in the days of the Fatherland and then the Cold War, was actually planned in its entirety. Now some scenes that could be interpreted as glorification of Russia are being cut from the production by Dmitri Tcherniakov, who hasn't seen his Russian homeland for a year.
Conditions in ballet are sad. An international exchange between Russian physical excellence and Western modern creative input that had finally begun was abruptly and completely stopped. The top Russian companies are currently no longer able to perform in the West, they are misused as propaganda weapons, also in violation of the copyrights of Western choreographers - who have withdrawn their rights, but which are undauntedly continued to be played in the East. Not a few Western dancers in Russian companies have all emigrated.
And two artists who, until now, have been border crossers, have been switching back and forth between camps, are finding it increasingly difficult to justify carelessness. Anna Netrebko spoke out against the war, but only half-heartedly. Because there are no EU sanctions for Russian culture, some allow it to continue, others don't. In Wiesbaden, the sponsors of the city and state have distanced themselves. The Ukrainians invited to the celebration of the prisoners around the world have canceled, as has the Russian opposition band Pussy Riot. Demonstrations of displeasure can be expected at the Netrebko meetings.
The case of Teodor Currentzis, the Greek conductor with a Russian passport, is more difficult. Although he never spoke out in favor of Putin, he still keeps his free choir and orchestra ensembles, MusicAeterna, financed by agencies close to the Kremlin and sponsored by state-owned companies. In order to avoid the dilemma, he now appears in the West with a hastily founded two-orchestra whose financial sources have not been completely clarified and in which Music Aeterna instrumentalists also play.
The coming months will show how generous or strict the West is, how much music continues to think itself apolitical and believe it can get by. It's a dance on the war razor's edge.