As Russia put harsh anti-gay laws into place, celebrities have begun announcing boycotts in protest; Bravo’s Andy Cohen announced he would not co-host the Miss Universe pageant taking place in Moscow while Cher is not including stops in Russia. But when protesters planned to picket the production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” The Metropolitan Opera said the show must go on.
The protest centered around the conflict between the composer and the stars of the production. Tchaikovsky was gay; some of the performers in this staging of “Onegin” have been associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man who put the anti gay laws into place.
The Met’s response came from its General Manager, Peter Gelb, in a blog on Bloomberg.com. “As an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world,” Gelb wrote. “Throughout its distinguished 129-year history, the Met has never dedicated a single performance to a political or social cause, no matter how important or just,” Gelb wrote. “Our messaging has always been through art.” Gelb further pointed out that the Met’s stance on gay rights is reflected through “the choice of our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rainbow of artists and staff.”
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for The Met’s straightforward, on-brand response to protestors.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Messages can become mixed when they come from the wrong messenger. It’s one thing for performers to choose not to go to Russia in protest; a similar boycott took place when celebrities refused to perform in Sun City, a South African resort, when it was still under apartheid rule. But where is the line drawn? On artistic soil. The Met is in New York, a melting pot for cultures and a place where the arts can unite people of all diversities. Gelb stated the Met’s case respectfully, unequivocally, and quickly. In this case, the hubbub was over before the fat lady sang.