Wednesday, August 14, 2013


(picture AP)

I wrote something on Opera-L and surprisingly the three people on Mrs. John Claggart’s face book page urged her to republish it here. I dedicate this to Leslie Barcza. He has a blog (don’t we all, dears?) and it’s worth visiting: . He suggested I republish something I called portentously enough The Trial of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. So I thought, before the season starts and one gets distracted, perhaps one should give way to one’s pretension.

It’s all brought about by the awful situation for LBGT people in Russia. Putin, dictator there, is looking to exterminate us deviants and inverts. This is an issue taken up on an Opera list ONLY because the Metropolitan Opera, probably the most boring and useless pile of crap among big opera companies, is opening its season with an opera by a homosexual composer named Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin. I suppose he would have been done away with and his opera banned if he had lived long enough to write it.

But the Met is offering a gala to start the season with two Putin collaborators, Anna Netrebko, soprano opportunistisco d’agilità nel letto, and Valery Gergiev, the lousy conductor. Both of these people joined with Putin in 2012 to extol his virtues essential for Mother Russia, and both owe their careers to enormous hype. Anna has made an album of Verdi arias, which my twin will get to very soon.

Gergiev could have gotten nowhere without the amazing support of the government, and he is looking to shore that up by acting the samovar from which Putin can sip. Gergiev got enormous hype (we can’t blame Putin for that since it goes back a ways to the fogs of the 1990s) but he hasn’t got enormous talent. He does have qualities. The Met orchestra drew up a petition about his body odor. That didn’t happen to Toscanini or Mahler when they led the Met. Maybe Gergiev has one upped two legends?

A good summery of Putin’s position, including the promise to jail gay and lesbian tourists is here:

Here is another summary.

The kidnapping, torture and killing of an “effeminate” boy by Russian hoodlums is recounted here:

The English Intellectual, Stephen Fry, has compared Putin to Hitler, and urged the moving of something else coming up of far greater moment than opera, The Olympics. His pleading with The British government is here:

A high official in the Russian government has demanded that the “hearts of gay people be burned”.

Now, suddenly, we have the specter of the Olympics held in Berlin in 1936 in front of Hitler, glorifying him, and his “graciously” allowing the black, Jesse Owens, to compete.

 (Alan Goldhammer who honored the widder and her twin by joining up here, wrote “the US Track and Field team did not permit two Jewish sprinters to run on the relay team with Jesse Owens because of the Nazi policies and fear of offending the Fürher. Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller were the sprinters in question”.)

Netrebko and Gergiev were among the 499 trustees of the Russian presidential candidate, the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin In 2012.

The great Latvian violinist Gidon Kramer will join one of the greatest pianists in the world, Martha Argerich, and Daniel Barenboim in a concert condemning Putin’s shocking record on human rights, which has extended to assassination. Kremer singled Netrebko and Gergiev out for their pro Putin activism:

Gergiev made an ad for Putin. The You Tube version and a translation can be found here.!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2012/mar/02/valery-gergiev-appears-putin-campaign-commercial/

Netrebko (who has double citizenship through marriage, she also holds an Austrian passport) and Gergiev, remarkable for their greed, are supporting a kind of Hitler and that brings up the famous Nazi opera singers and conductors who joined the party, or if they didn’t, happily gave the salute and cooperated in a national frenzy to annihilate Jews, Roma and yes, homosexuals. Only one of these singing monsters went to jail. The Russians, who raped their way across Eastern Germany while “liberating” it, put the famous tenor, Helge Roswaenge in a POW camp for a spell, until his friends could bribe the Swiss to give him refuge (Roswaenge’s home country, Denmark, refused.)

Many of the famous singers under Hitler were older by the time the war ended; those who could, after their “denazification”, usually a year or two of enforced inactivity, continued careers in Germany and Austria, and some visited South America, but were heavily circumscribed about where they could sing. Conductors were different. One of the most gifted judging from records and broadcasts, Oswald Kabasta, committed suicide when the Nazi defeat was absolutely certain. Nazis such as Karajan and sympathizers such as Karl Böhm went on to be worshipped. Clemens Krauss died in 1954 but he and his mistress Viorica Ursuleac, went on despite their many dinners with Hitler (however they are known to have helped some Jews, and Krauss, while running the Munich Opera, hired a few people who didn’t have work papers). Karajan and Böhm were not known to have helped anybody. Karajan got into trouble with the Nazis for mysterious reasons and had to flee to a sweet male poet’s castle in Italy when allies inside the party whispered to him that “they” were planning to send him to the Russian front.

There were many injustices of course. The US and the USSR both recruited (thus saved) SS men and Gestapo officials to be spies, political prison guards and torturers. They also hired scientists such as Werner von Braun who ran a concentration camp. Many monsters just faded back into civilian life. Wieland Wagner also helped run a concentration camp and was Hitler’s favorite of the Wagner family; he was intrustred with “rescuing” The Bayreuth Festival from it strong Nazi associations. The Americans were the easiest to fool, the British tended to be easy going; only the Russians were tough with punishments, unless they thought someone would be useful. But younger people, those in their early thirties at war’s end, could go on to make substantial careers and even become stars.

Was Dame (yes the English damed her) Elizabeth Schwarzkopf DBE the most flagrant example of someone who got away with murder, figurative if not actual (I think all bets are off, but fairness compels me to admit she was never convicted of killing anyone – directly)? Recent information about Karajan has incriminated him more than what many believed, but it’s probably fair to say that his relationship to the regime was complicated and twisted. That was not true of Schwarzkopf.

In any case this is what my twin, Albert, wrote about her, Netrebko and Gergiev on Opera-L:

The Trial of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf:

We are unable to have one here. Therefore it is easy to make statements in either direction that are at best questionable and at worst untrue. But I am astounded by what I read [from FANS]. The two books by Michael Kater are easily available. They are thoroughly documented, and notably evenhanded (he is very careful to distinguish nasty gossip and envious defamation from facts, even about known "villains" as established by his documents).

There are a number of other carefully researched and well documented books about the period and its major players. One can read letters written at the time by many of these people, including Hans Pfitzner who hated Jews, but hated Nazis more, and identified Schwarzkopf as a hateful Nazi. She did indeed join the party. That was not necessary even to ensure a career (though it helped someone who wasn't making quick headway by the normal avenues). It cost a great deal of money, and in fact, by the mid thirties it got harder to do, as the Nazi party was more interested in zealots than opportunists. It also cost a small fortune. That is something she did not have. No one knows how she got the money but it wasn't easy -- and she did get it.

SHE WAS A MEMBER OF THE GESTAPO. She was the information officer at the Berlin State Opera, charged with reporting confidentially on the activities of ALL of her colleagues. THIS IS A FACT. I have known people who thought she was a silly slut who then became quite frightened of her. Two thousand pages of her record with the Gestapo were released right before she died. The papers have not circulated widely and I wonder why. Did she mainly stick with tattling about trivial infractions and thus avoid being taken seriously by her superiors (some of those men were far more interested in other aspects of her body -- of work -- than her spying)? Or did she do real damage to those she disliked?

Let me be clear again. We may eventually know all that can be known and find her better or worse than various people think. We are talking about someone who sold herself to the highest bidders in an organization of horrific evil. And what is this I read? That she never said anything about her Nazi past and that exonerates her? Is that person so utterly an idiot that they think she WOULD? When, helped by the British Nazi sympathizer, Walter Legge, she began to make an international career (many thought he was Jewish, which suited their plan, but he denied it, to me personally on one occasion. He began as one of her lovers, became her “master” as she called him, then her husband) do you think she was going to EXTOL NAZISM AND CONDEMN JEWS? No one EVER thought she was stupid, or lacking in a quick, shrewd, smart opportunism.

We are not talking about everyone who stayed in Nazi Germany and did what they had to in order to achieve some security in their careers. Yes, they all had to make up to the Nazis. As Kater finds in his documents, thus did Hotter and Knappertsbusch, two people thought to be "anti-Nazi" (but both, especially Hotter, fawned on Hitler). Neither was popular with the Nazi toughs in Munich and it appears unlikely that either had Nazi ideals. Neither joined the party.

We know that after a burst of enthusiasm Richard Strauss went into internal exile as far as he could, negotiating a tight rope walk between continuing to collect royalties and conducting (he needed both to survive) and most important to him, saving his Jewish daughter in law (who had relatives who died in the camps) and his two adored grandsons who were counted as Jews. It is said that a Nazi lynch mob was about to attack his villa when the Americans surrounded it, and after he proved his identity to a musical member of the unit, saved him and his family.

Strauss and the far more mysterious Furtwangler were unpopular with many powerful Nazis (the conductor more so) but Furtwangler's case will always be equivocal, as his letters to Albert Speer who played both sides, indicate.

And yes, many, many of the people who had to escape the Nazis and got into America suffered horribly. Bartok (who was not Jewish but anti-Fascist) suffered with fatal illness he couldn't afford to treat and was evicted from the apartment he shared with his wife and son ON HIS DEATH BED. Zemlinsky, a greatly gifted composer and conductor, nearly starved to death and died elderly and alone in terrible poverty. That could easily have been the fate of Schoenberg who had a younger wife and two young children to support. He landed the teaching jobs in LA at the last second, was badly paid and horribly treated at both universities and was forced to retire, but was able to survive.

So it's entirely understandable that those who faced no immediate threat from the Nazi racial laws and had families to support stayed, did what they had to at galas and parties, and hoped for the best (but there were hold outs, Marta Fuchs refused to give the salute and vocally condemned the Nazis. Somehow she escaped. The entire family of the great composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann went into internal exile in a very rural area and coped with severe discomfort rather than compromise with the regime. The famous composer, Stockhausen, kept his head down; his father was in the army and died in battle, his mother had a nervous break down, went to the hospital for help and was shot. When he went to get her body and asked why, he was told "we can't waste food on the worthless".)

But Fraulein Schwarzkopf lived well, in safety, was celebrated until the very end of the war, where after a very bad few months she seduced an American officer who gave her a pass. It is not for me to say she was a bad person, nor dare I suggest I would have behaved heroically under the same circumstances (though as a queer I would have very likely been killed or sent to a camp). But I strongly condemn those who either out of sick idolatry and sheer stupidity lie about what she did. Whatever her talents and later fame, they don't answer very disturbing questions about her.

Meanwhile, with Netrebko: I assume she has received, and, despite her dual citizenship, continues to receive benefits in Russia (which has created a super rich class of amazing resources none of whom are going to battle Putin). She supported a monster, as did the far more corrupt and vicious Gergiev (why don't our Schwarzkopf defenders track down the fifty or so gifted Russian artists he destroyed?). It's abundantly clear how this mediocrity has benefited from the patronage of Putin. But the Met is a business; canceling (buying out) the contracts of all Russian citizens none of whom would find it wise to defy Putin, whatever their personal beliefs (or proclivities) is probably prohibitive in the conservative and frightened eyes of Peter Gelb, who in any case would have to get board approval for any extensive and expensive action (hell, most of those people are sorry there aren't concentration camps here). The Met's statement will probably have to do; perhaps there will be a demonstration. I could fantasize simply replacing all Russians with gifted Americans (there are very many) but were I in his position would I really do it? Meanwhile, Vancouver is willing and able to host the Olympic games. The world should face down vicious tyranny. But the world is a dunghill of interconnected multinational corporations. We can expect worse; Madame Netrebko is a star because of it but not the worst result of it. 

Here are some reactions to on line discussion of this by opera lovers!!

I care more about voice, not sexual orientation of the singers and their politics.

Art in the US needs to transcend politics.  Many, many people in the US still discriminate against the gay community so it doesn't seem that we are totally on the right side of this issue anyway.  

Yeah !!  Let's ruin the Met.

The opening night of the Met's season is NOT the place for a protest about human rights abuses in Russia.

Netrebko is not a political figure. She is the best soprano we have today.

..these suggestions of some...about boycotting the Met's opening "Onegin" just another example of "mid-summer silliness"

Netrebko is my favorite!

Maybe it’s not the new Russian Fascists alone that should be banned but opera lovers, and hell, even opera?

Hitler and Winifred Wagner greet one another at Bayreuth.


  1. Hartmann’s father-in-law was a wealthy arms manufacturer (who made a fortune in ball bearings, among other things), so Hartmann and his wife lived in comfort and security throughout the war, well out-of-the way of dangers. Hartmann was exceedingly fortunate: not everyone had access to such luxurious “internal exile”, able to wait out the war in beautiful rural Bavaria, under the personal protection of a major weapons merchant.

    I think German musicians—both those who exiled and those who remained in Germany—held this circumstance against Hartmann after the war. The only musicians who touched Hartmann’s music, for decades, were Kubelik and Leitner.

    I long ago linked your blog, but under my own chosen title: “The Treasury Of Atreus”. I assumed you would not mind the liberty.

    I wish you would write more often.

  2. great post MJC. Looking forward to your review of AN's CD. I don't think she is "the best soprano we have today" but I wouldn't categorize her as mediocre. She's far from it, I'd say. Or were you perhaps referring to Gergiev right then?

  3. Drew what exactly is your blog called? And thanks for the info about Hartmann; I want to do a blog entry about him, since I adore his work and can't believe with the retrograde taste in the world that he hasn't finally caught on -- there are even tunes!!!

    Thanks jgdm, I think I meant Gergiev. The word will serve for Anna but a conductor can do a lot more damage, since he's there a lot more when she's not!!!!!! I understand people hoping for her. But most people don't know what a conductor does and I'm surprised in a way that his hype took. I think he is really lousy, though worse in some things than others. And I will have Anna up on Monday!!!!!

  4. Well said, agreed in every point. The horror just isn't being spelled out enough, to the extent that I began to question for a moment if it was really as bad as it seems. But hearing today on the BBC World Service another government spokesman pouring forth unbelievable bile and a woman vigilante in St Petersburg who claims to be hunting down paedophiles to kill them and hopes she can shoot a few gays on the way reminded me that it is worse.

    Curious to know which 50 artists Gergiev destroyed and why, if you've got time. I know a couple of dive non grate (Prokina and Gorchakova), I wonder about the others.

  5. Russia is still living in the medieval times I guess. Why they can not accept the fact that people can choose and say what ever they want to "freedom of speech". People are of different sexual orientation and creating awareness about to comfort people like them should be allowed.