Anna Netrebko’s performance at the Kölner Philharmony on August 29
Kind request to reconsider programming decision and cancel Anna Netrebko’s performance at the Kölner Philharmony on August 29
Intendant The Kölner Philharmony
Artistic and managing director and CEO of KölnMusik GmbH
As it became known, on August 29, the Kölner Philharmony is going to host the performance of Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov.
We kindly ask you to reconsider your programming decision and cancel Anna Netrebko’s performance at the Kölner Philharmony on August 29. We see this choice as very problematic and inappropriate given Ms Netrebko’s prior relations with Putin’s regime and her dubious position in the past and during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It is very common to say that “art is beyond politics”. In our opinion, this approach is not appropriate. In part, such an attitude helped to pave the way to the current war when numerous Russian artists benefited from the Kremlin-sponsored initiatives turning a blind eye to its real politics, both domestic and international, which in turn helped to legitimise the Russian regime.
It is true that on March 30, more than one month after the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine Ms Netrebko issued a statement against the war in Ukraine, without calling explicitly its perpetrator – the Russian state and its ruling regime. This move looked more like a necessary measure after cancelling her performances worldwide to keep performing. On February 26, on Facebook, the artist wrote inter alia “forcing artists, or any public figure, to voice their political opinions in public and to denounce their homeland is not right”. In early March, as NYT reported, Netrebko urged Russia to end the war and later deleted this post on Instagram (now her account is not accessible). We also did not see her reconsidering her prior political statements.
The singer consistently states she is beyond politics, however in 2012 her name appeared on a list endorsing Putin’s election. In her 2022 interview with Die Zeit she acknowledged that “it would have been very unwise to refuse to do so”. In the same interview, she says she couldn’t criticise Putin during the 2022 invasion because he was still the President of Russia and she was still a Russian citizen and added that now she saw her task as “fighting against any Russophobia”.
The allegations of Netrebko’s controversial position include her singing at Putin’s regime showcase of the Sochi Winter Olimpics and celebrating her 50th anniversary at the Kremlin concert hall. However, another episode is particularly outrageous concerning Ukraine.
This is the donation made to the Donetsk Opera in 2014 when the city was already controlled by Russia. For this purpose, Netrebko used one of the odious separatist leaders Oleh Tsaryov. Let us remind that because of Russia’s hybrid war initiated in 2014 Donetsk Opera lost most of its staff, who became IDPs, as former artistic director of the Donetsk Opera Vadym Pysarev noted in 2014. Netrebko even posed with the separatists’ flag of the so-called “Novorossiya” at that time. Later she claimed not to be aware of what this flag meant, however, the artist did not issue any statement reaffirming the territorial integrity of Ukraine following the controversy.
Even before this, on May 9, 2010, Netrebko was wearing a T-Shirt with the inscription “To Berlin!” and the black-and-orange St. George ribbon, an integral symbol of the Kremlin’s modern militarism. Before, in 2009, Putin awarded her the title of People’s Artist which is the highest award for performers in Russia. Unsurprisingly, in the same 2009 in an interview with a Russian state-owned newspaper Netrebko said she was “always unambiguously for Russia” denouncing Western news coverage of Russia’s aggression in Georgia as “one-sided” and saying she perceived “attacks on Russia extremely negatively”, always “discussing and defending Russian position” in response. The Russian invasion of Georgia was just the precursor of the current Russo-Ukrainian war. History does not like the subjunctive mood but maybe if the world had responded differently to Russia’s lawless actions at the epoch and their overt support among cultural and political elites we would not have the present biggest war in Europe since WW2.
We are convinced that artists should be aware of their influence within society and thus be responsible for their political stance. We conclude that Anna Netrebko’s political reputation is controversial and cannot be overturned by one general statement “against war”.
In view of the above, we see ignoring these facts and inviting Ms Netrebko to perform at the world’s primary stages as a worrying sign in present conditions. We hope for your understanding and kindly ask to cancel Anna Netrebko’s performance at the Kölner Philharmony and suspend any cooperation with her in the future.
This letter is signed on behalf of the Ukrainian Institute and Ukraine’s cultural institutions that endorsed the call to the Kölner Philharmony:
Director General, Ukrainian Institute
Director of the Ukrainian Book Institute