Anna Netrebko: Die Kunst kann nicht über alles siegen
Die Kunst kann nicht über alles siegen – Seite 1
„I cannot reword“
Das war an diesem Berliner Abend einer der Momente, in denen die Kunst auf die Wirklichkeit traf. Eine Frau in einem orange-weißen Sommerkleid und metallisch glitzernden Sandalen raunte da in der Nähe von einem der Aschenbechermülleimer kopfschüttelnd: „Terrorstaat, tss“, wandte sich ab und ging zurück ins Opernhaus. Sie war eine der Zuschauerinnen der Wiederaufnahme von Harry Kupfers Inszenierung von Macbeth-Inszenierung an der Staatsoper, und zwischen diesen und den Demonstrierenden, die bald „Schande! Schande!“ skandierten, waren Barrikaden errichtet worden. Im Raum zwischen den beiden Menschenmengen standen auf dem breiten Bürgersteig Polizisten. Draußen und drinnen, das war an diesem Berliner Abend streng getrennt.
The reason for the barriers was the presence of Russian-Austrian soprano Anna Netrebko. The most well-known and arguably the best opera singer of our time performed the role of Lady Macbeth inside the State Opera. This was Netrebko’s first performance in Berlin since the start of the Ukraine conflict, in the capital of one of the countries that supply weapons to Ukraine, which has been under attack by the military of Netrebko’s home country. Prior to Netrebko’s performance in Berlin (she has also recently sung in Wiesbaden), an open letter was published addressed to the governing mayor Kai Wegner and the culture senator Joe Chialo, protesting against her appearance. Dozens of organizations, mainly Ukrainian, and prominent individuals such as Eastern Europe historian Timothy Snyder and Ralf Fücks, former head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, have signed the letter. A similar petition on change.org has been signed 37,000 times. Since the start of the war against Ukraine, Russian artists have had to explain their stance on the ruthless war initiated by Vladimir Putin in February 2022 with the invasion of Ukraine. Anna Netrebko was considered a favorite of Putin, at least until then.
The Berlin production of Verdi’s Macbeth premiered almost five years ago. At that time, in July 2018, everything seemed fine, at least in Germany, even though Russia was already at war with Ukraine in the Donbass region. However, hardly anyone questioned at that time whether it was right to continue importing Russian gas and oil in the face of the war – and to allow Russian artists to perform on German stages. The premiere of the Berlin Macbeth production was broadcast live on a screen on Bebelplatz next to the State Opera for those who couldn’t get tickets, and the participants even went there after the final applause at the State Opera to celebrate. Harry Kupfer directed, Netrebko already sang Lady Macbeth, Plácido Domingo, a tenor by profession, sang the baritone role of Macbeth as an aging world star, and Daniel Barenboim conducted the Berlin State Orchestra.
Five years later, only Netrebko remains among those involved at the time. Kupfer passed away in 2019. Domingo was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women in 2019. As a result, he resigned from his position as opera director in Los Angeles, apologized to anyone who may have felt harassed by his behavior, but stated in a 2020 interview that he had never abused anyone. Barenboim, who was the general music director of the State Opera at the time, had to address allegations of authoritarian behavior. The 81-year-old has long since retired from his position and is currently in poor health, rarely making appearances.
„I cannot reword“
An hour before the start of the new season of the State Opera’s production of Macbeth, six police vans and around 100 demonstrators were present on Bebelplatz. The demonstrators positioned themselves beyond the barricades opposite the main entrance of the opera house. Approximately a quarter of them had Ukrainian flags draped over their shoulders. Two individuals with megaphones began chanting slogans, while others held up protest signs. One sign read „No stage for Putin’s bitch,“ while another stated „Culture is not outside politics.“ The flag of Ukraine was flying on the building of the State Opera in the evening sun, and another flag with the Ukrainian national colors was currently hanging in front of the facade above the main entrance, between two white signs that read „State Opera“ and „Macbeth.“
If you had a ticket, you had to show it to a police officer at the barriers in order to be allowed through. The officers simultaneously protected the performance and ensured a legally secured demonstration against this performance. Inside the State Opera, primarily older individuals with economically well-off backgrounds gathered, dressed in ceremonial robes. Men with bow ties or longer artist hairstyles could be seen, as well as women in evening gowns with valuable jewelry and colorful eyeglass frames.
She blew a kiss to the audience.
After the curtain inside had lifted, Anna Netrebko stepped out. Initially, she silently walked through one of the two main sets created by the fabulous stage designer Hans Schavernoch five years ago for the production: a battlefield with fallen soldiers and video images of explosions projected onto the back wall. Netrebko was carrying a sword. In 2018, during the premiere in Berlin, this certainly presented a completely different image compared to now, in the context of the Ukraine war.
In the fifth scene of the opera, Lady Macbeth is seen alone on stage in Macbeth’s castle. In the Berlin production, she is lounging on a white sofa in the middle of a huge gray-black marble hall that evokes fascist architecture. (The male main characters are wearing black military uniforms, and the riding pants suggest a historical association with Nazi rule in Germany.) Anna Netrebko sang „Vieni t’affretta!“ („Come, hurry!“) with breathtaking brilliance. Her soprano, which reveals few depths but immense ambition, filled the hall.
After the last verse – „Ascendivi a regnar“, ascend to the throne and rule – applause erupted for the first time, a cheer and jubilation that is rarely heard even in an opera hall prepared to enthuse everyone, Bravo calls drowned out only a few boos from apparent Netrebko opponents. The singer stood up from the sofa and broke character, she stood in front of the audience and crossed her arms in front of her body out of pride or defiance, and the Bravo calls grew even louder. Later, after another aria, she placed her hands on her hips and blew a kiss to the audience, while a final boo was silenced by a loud „Shut up!“ from the first row.
Es war ein Triumph Netrebkos, bezeugt von einem Publikum, das sie oder vielleicht auch nur einen Sieg der Kunst über das reale Weltgeschehen feiern wollte, womöglich auch aus Trotz. Eine politisch grundierte Russland-Liebe muss man dem Berliner Publikum nicht unterstellen. Aber eine Sehnsucht danach, dass die Kunst ein Schutzraum vor der Wirklichkeit sein möge, eine Art Paralleluniversum. Ein Zuschauer, der in der Reihe vor dem Reporter saß, beschwerte sich nach der Rückkehr aus der Pause und offensichtlich der Konfrontation mit den Protestierenden draußen darüber, dass es zugelassen wurde, dass diese sich direkt vor dem Haupteingang der Staatsoper versammeln durften. Warum man sie nicht wenigstens um die Ecke auf dem Bebelplatz belassen habe oder ganz woanders in der Stadt habe demonstrieren lassen. „Man will sich doch nicht beschimpfen lassen“, sagte der junge Mann.
Das Paralleluniversum Kunst
In this parallel universe of Macbeth, however, without the knowledge of director Harry Kupfer five years ago, there seem to be increasing references to Russia and its war against Ukraine today. The chorus of refugees, for example, who appear towards the end, old men, young women, and children with suitcases in hand, now remind us of the images seen in Berlin in the spring of 2022, particularly at the main train station, when people fleeing from the war in Ukraine would disembark from trains.
Nur hat das mörderische Tun des Macbeth, von dem das Melodramma des Giuseppe Verdi ansonsten handelt, grundsätzlich wenig mit der Gegenwart zu tun. Und der Hof des Macbeth, der sich zum König herauf meuchelt unter der Anfeuerung seiner Frau Lady Macbeth, hat wenig mit Putins Kreml gemein. Anna Netrebko war nie dessen Lady, sie hat sich, wenn auch zunächst zaghaft, von Putin distanziert. „Ich verurteile den Krieg gegen die Ukraine ausdrücklich, und meine Gedanken sind bei den Opfern dieses Krieges und ihren Familien“, heißt es in einem Statement Netrebkos aus dem vergangenen Jahr. Und: „Ich erkenne und bedauere, dass meine Handlungen oder Aussagen in der Vergangenheit zum Teil falsch interpretiert werden konnten.“
The Staatsoper Unter den Linden apparently deemed it sufficient to resume collaboration with Netrebko, after suspending it in March 2022 due to the outbreak of war. It is also „a very important sign that Anna Netrebko sings on a stage that is clearly positioned in favor of Ukraine,“ said Matthias Schulz, the director of the Berlin State Opera, on the day Macbeth resumed. However, people continue to die every day in Ukraine due to Russia’s violence. Therefore, it is understandable that supporters of the country outside the opera house remind and demand that no Russian-born artist like Netrebko be allowed to sing in Berlin until then. Art can triumph, but it cannot prevail over everything.
After the last note had faded away at the State Opera Unter den Linden and after Netrebko, especially Fabio Sartori, who played Macduff, had been celebrated with standing ovations and endless cheers of „Bravo!“, there were still some demonstrators outside who shouted „Shame! Shame!“ at the streaming opera audience and soon also „Shame on you, audience!“. The two sides did not engage in conversation that evening, the art enthusiasts and those who may not necessarily despise art. The demonstrators explicitly insulted only the artist Anna Netrebko as an alleged Kremlin propagandist and her listeners as supporters by extension. This perspective can be taken if one does not view art as a parallel universe but rather as a mere representative of reality that cannot help but be influenced by world events.
However, this does not change the fact that on this evening in Berlin, a woman performed a singing performance that is rarely heard. The art, one can also see it this way, stands in such perfection for itself. In any case, for three hours in an opera house, the present is suspended. However, outside during this time and still: reality prevails.