Metropolitan Opera Ordered to Pay Anna Netrebko $200,000 for Canceled Performances

By Francisco Salazar

The Metropolitan Opera has been ordered by an arbitrator to pay soprano Anna Netrebko more than $200,000 for performances it canceled last year when Peter Gelb distanced himself from “Putin-supported artists.”

The arbitrator, in a decision issued last month that had not been previously reported, ruled that the Met would be obligated to compensate Netrebko for 13 canceled performances, including appearances in “Don Carlo” this season and “La Forza del Destino” and “Andrea Chénier” next season.

According to the arbitrator, the contractual agreement known as “pay or play” requires institutions to pay performers even if they later decide not to engage them.

The Met argued that Netrebko was not entitled to payment because of her refusal to comply with the company’s demand after the invasion of Ukraine that she denounce Putin, which it said had violated the company’s conduct clause.

Netrebko had endorsed Putin for president in 2012, but denounced the war in February and later distanced herself from Putin. Her statements led her to be ousted from her Russian contracts and called a traitor.

 In a statement, the arbitrator, Howard C. Edelman, found that “there is no doubt she was a Putin supporter, as she had a right to be” and “added that aligning with Putin was certainly not moral turpitude or worthy, in and of itself, of actionable misconduct.”

Netrebko originally sought out an additional $400,000 in fees for engagements in coming seasons that had been discussed but not formally agreed to, including leading roles in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and “Tosca,” as well as Verdi’s “Macbeth” and Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades.” She was, however, ordered to pay $30,000 for posting an inappropriate comment.

The Met did not comment on the specifics of the ruling but defended its decision to cancel Netrebko’s performances.

Peter Gelb said, “although our contracts are ‘pay or play,’ we didn’t think it was morally right to pay Netrebko anything considering her close association with Putin. It’s an artistic loss for the Met not having her singing here. But there’s no way that either the Met or the majority of its audience would tolerate her presence.”

Netrebko’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment to the New York Times but Sam Wheeler, the national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that represented Netrebko, praised the decision, saying it would help protect the rights of artists seeking compensation for canceled engagements.

He said, “‘Pay-or-play’ is the bedrock of our collective bargaining agreements across the country, and we will always defend ‘pay-or-play’ provisions to the fullest extent possible.

The Met continues to engage many Russian artists who continue to perform alongside Putin supporter Valery Gergiev, most notably “Lohenrgin” star Evgeny Nikitin, who performed on Victory Day, a national holiday that Putin used to promote his propaganda.

Netrebko next performs at the Teatro alla Scala and is set to open the 2023-24 Milan season as well as the Arena di Verona’s 100th anniversary season.