Anna Netrebko Sues Peter Gelb & Metropolitan Opera

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: tim osipov)

Anna Netrebko has filed a lawsuit against Peter Gelb and the Metropolitan Opera.

The soprano is alleging defamation, breach of contract, and other violations related to the institution’s decision to fire her following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan and is asking for at least $360,000 in “damages for lost performance and rehearsal fees.” It also claimed that the Met caused Netrebko ”severe mental anguish and emotional distress” that included “depression, humiliation, embarrassment, stress and anxiety, and emotional pain and suffering.”

The lawsuit also alleges a breach of additional agreements for 40 performances of Puccini’s “Tosca” and Tchaikovsky’s “Pique Dame” during the 2024-25 season and Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and Verdi’s “Macbeth” in 2025-26. She was set to receive the Met’s top fee of $17,000 per performance.

The suit also claims Netrebko was discriminated against because of national origin and the Met and Gelb “harmed Netrebko’s relationship among audiences, including by encouraging protests against her performances” and “caused other opera houses and cultural institutions in the United States to refrain from hiring Netrebko.”

It also said Netrebko was forced to sell her New York City apartment at a loss and added that “due to the Met’s requirement that Netrebko issue public statements opposing the actions of Russian government, Russian politicians have denounced Netrebko, Russian theater companies have canceled contracts with her, Russian audiences have criticized her on her social media channels and in the Russian press, and Netrebko and her family and friends in Russia have suffered the risk of harm, retaliation, and retribution by the Russian government.”

Nertebko’s management added, “Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Met and Peter Gelb have used Anna Netrebko as a scapegoat in their campaign to distance themselves from Russia and to support Ukraine.”

Netrebko was dropped from the Metropolitan Opera back on March 3, 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. Per Gelb, the company’s decision was the result of Netrebko refusing to denounce President Vladimir Putin. The soprano then followed by denounced the war three times (first time on Feb. 25, 2022 with the third one coming a month later on March 30).

However, Gelb continued to attack the soprano in numerous interviews including one in  April 2022 where he stated that “she took a public stance over a period of years. Most Russian artists, including other singers who perform at the Met, have not taken any public political position.” In June 2022, he added in an interview with Van Magazine, ” Netrebko is a close personal ally of Putin, both in deed and in mindset—which I know from personal experience, having spoken to her and known her for many, many years—what I was willing to tolerate seemed no longer tolerable.”

And in November 2022 Gelb continued by stating, “I think the difference is that Netrebko has demonstrated over a period of many years that she was kind of in lockstep politically and ideologically with Putin and with Gergiev, who was her mentor and discovered her. That’s a different level of commitment than singers who are just performing in Russia. We’ve had a number of Russian singers performing at the Met this season, but it’s very difficult for them to even get here.”

Following Netrebko’s last statement, in which she said, “I expressly condemn the war on Ukraine and my thoughts are with the victims of this war and their families. My position is clear. I am not a member of any political party nor am I allied with any leader of Russia,” the Russian soprano was dropped from Russian theaters and has not returned to Russia. She was also dropped from many contracts including all her performances at the Bayerische Staatsoper.

Earlier last year the American Guild of Musical Artists filed a grievance on Netrebko’s behalf and arbitrator Howard C. Edelman ruled in February that the Met violated the union’s collective bargaining agreement when it canceled deals with Netrebko to appear in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” and “La Forza del Destino” and Giordano’s ”Andrea Chénier.” He awarded her $209,103.48 for her lost performances.

Netrebko has steadily recovered many performances following her dismissal from the Met and recently opened the 100th anniversary season of Italy’s Arena di Verona. She is scheduled to appear this season at the Berlin’s Staatsoper unter den Linden, the Vienna State Opera, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and the Paris Opéra.