Beyond politics. What’s wrong with Anna Netrebko?

Opera star Anna Netrebko believes she can be beyond politics. Her schedule for 2023 is already strictly planned; she is to perform at the best concert stages in Austria, Germany, China, or Italy.

Moreover, this June, she will open the 100th Anniversary season of Arena di Verona Opera Festival. But how fair is it to be out of politics when the state which Ms. Netrebko is a citizen of, is conducting the most wide and destructive war in Europe since World War II?


In August 2022, Anna Netrebko resumed her concert activities after a short break. Thus, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several famous concert halls (including the Metropolitan Opera) stopped cooperating with Ms. Netrebko because of her uncertain political position.

For years, Netrebko was the acclaimed darling of the great opera houses. Whether in Verona, Vienna, or New York — the audience was at her feet. With her voice and her charm, she enchanted the stages of the world.

There was no great outcry when she celebrated her 50th birthday in the Kremlin; in the fall of 2021 it was still acceptable.

When she supported Vladimir Putin in his presidential campaign in 2012, there were isolated reactions. Little attention was also paid when she had herself photographed with pro-Russian separatist leader Oleh Tsarev holding the “New Russia” flag. She was also named “People’s Artist of the Russian Federation,” an honorary state title.

The world’s perception of Netrebko changed with Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, however.

Her closeness to the Kremlin and uncritical opinion of Putin became Netrebko’s undoing: “I want the war to stop,” she wrote in a statement. She said she was Russian and loved her country, but also had many friends in Ukraine. “The pain and suffering break my heart,” she wrote, then shrouding herself in silence for weeks.

For the West, she did not position herself critically enough. But for Russia, she was too critical. Netrebko became persona non grata both in Europe and in her home country.

Controversial comeback

In an attempt to draw attention to Anna’s return to the stage, the leadership of the Ukrainian Institute, the Ukrainian state body responsible for cultural diplomacy, issued an open appeal to the Cologne Philharmonic, where Netrebko was scheduled to perform on August 29, 2022, to cancel the concert.

“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”. 

Ukrainian Institute

Nevertheless, the concert was not cancelled even despite the protests that preceded it. In addition, DW reports that the atmosphere on this evening was tense. At the beginning of the concert, a musician from the orchestra of the Northwest German Philharmonic Orchestra held up a Ukrainian flag, which was then taken away during the intermission by the orchestra’s artistic director, Andreas Kuntze.

Kuntze said the musician’s action had not been previously discussed or agreed upon with him. The musician himself told DW he was willing to give an interview, but it was forbidden by Kuntze.

On February 07, 2023, Netrebko’s concert is to take place in Arezzo, Italy. A similar argument that “culture is beyond politics” was made by the organizers. The mayor of Arezzo, Alessandro Ghinelli, wrote on his Facebook: “We are against this war, but the message of art goes further. For Arezzo, Anna Netrebko’s concert is an opportunity to attend a truly unique and valuable show.”

Culture beyond the politics?

Unfortunately, the argument that culture is “beyond politics” is used when there are no other arguments. Or when it is necessary to cover other hidden agendas.

Anna Netrebko, for example, only made her declaration that she did not support the war when her contracts began to be terminated. The threat of losing her job became the only mechanism for influencing her to somehow express a more or less articulated position.

However, as Anna herself admits in an interview, she has occupied and continues to occupy a position on two chairs. She cannot fully condemn the Russian authorities for the war.

In 2012, Anna supported Putin in the elections. In her 2022 interview, she explained it this way: “It would be unwise to give it up. Some things are better not to give up. But I never participated in political campaigns. I chose Putin in 2021 and didn’t hide it.”

There is a logical fallacy in this quote. Publicly endorsing a politician for election by a well-known persona is politics. It is political technology. And, of course, it is direct involvement in political campaigns.

Before terminating her collaboration, Peter Gelb, head of the Metropolitan Opera, asked Ms. Netrebko to clearly state her position on Russia’s actions. However, Anna limited herself to generalities.

“I can’t do that! No one in Russia can, Putin is still the president of Russia. I am, after all, a Russian citizen, so you can’t do that… That’s why I refused to make such a statement.”

For a person living in a democratic society, such words can be surprising. Isn’t it the right of a citizen to evaluate his government – especially the government for which you campaigned and voted? Isn’t it the duty of a citizen to control his/her power and publicly condemn the illegal actions of the government?

Such theses of Ms. Netrebko prove how twisted reality is in Russia. How people see themselves as helpless and wish to remain on the sidelines. But silent neglect is complicity.

Especially Anna Netrebko, being a citizen of both Russia and Austria, explicitly articulates that she feels more Russian every year.

Ms. Netrebko is a brand. A brand inseparable from Russia. And she has done nothing to separate herself from Russia.

Mark Hamill is raising money to help Ukraine. The Rolling Stones recorded a song in support of Ukraine, and other prominent cultural figures are participating in fundraising to rebuild hospitals in territories liberated from Russia. Anna Netrebko simply wrote a Facebook post about not supporting the war. But it is worth mentioning that in 2014, she donated 15,000 euros to the Donetsk Opera House when Donetsk had already been taken over by pro-Russian separatists and was under effective Russian control.

Instead, this phenomenal and magnificent singer gives concerts all over the world, including performing compositions by Russian classics. This, in turn, gives Russian propaganda the right to promote narratives about great Russian culture. And, under the guise of culture, continue to kill.

The “culture beyond politics” thesis is most often used by those who support or do not want to condemn “that bad guy with the gun”. Those who understand that they are on the side of the criminal but want to save face as much as possible. Many of Hitler’s supporters after Nuremberg also said that they had nothing to do with it, that they were just following orders. Unfortunately, Putin has constructed a system where Russian tanks come after Russian culture.