ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Russia reveres its high-arts heritage of classical music and ballet, but arts organizations across the West are canceling appearances by performers with financial or personal ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. That includes some of Russia's biggest stars. At the same time, some Russian and Russian-born artists have been speaking out against the invasion of Ukraine. NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas has the story.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: One American cultural institution that has cut ties with musicians aligned with Putin is New York's famed Metropolitan Opera. In a video message Sunday, the opera company's general manager Peter Gelb made the Met's stance clear.
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PETER GELB: We can no longer engage with artists or institutions that support Putin or are supported by him - not until the invasion and killing has been stopped, order has been restored and restitutions have been made.
TSIOULCAS: Before a performance Monday night, the Met Orchestra and Chorus played and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
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METROPOLITAN OPERA CHORUS: (Singing in Ukrainian).
TSIOULCAS: Earlier today, Gelb announced that Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, who is one of the Met's biggest stars by far, will not perform at the New York Opera House through at least this November due to her failure to repudiate Putin. One of her replacements is a Ukrainian singer, Liudmyla Monastyrska.
Kira Thurman is a professor of history and German studies at the University of Michigan. She's also a musicologist. She says these debates and decisions about the intersection of art and politics are nothing new and that there's no way to unbind them.
KIRA THURMAN: We have totally seen this before. At least throughout the entire 20th century, this is the dilemma artists always find themselves under - is the artist's social and political responsibility during times of war.
TSIOULCAS: She points to World War II as one example.
THURMAN: Right after World War II, the Allied forces, including the U.S., had a very strong response to artists who had supported Adolf Hitler. The U.S. military, working with the British and other forces, literally tried and gave out sentences to artists who had supported the Nazis or had performed and worked under the Nazi regime.
TSIOULCAS: Conductor Semyon Bychkov was born in St. Petersburg and emigrated in 1975. He's music director and chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and he's spoken out against the invasion and canceled a June appearance in Moscow. He says he believes the current situation is not just a matter of art versus politics.
SEMYON BYCHKOV: It is about life and death. To remain silent in moments like that, for me, is not possible. I am an artist, and that is what I do. But art is not separated from life. In fact, art reflects life. It expresses it. And music does it in the most extraordinary, eloquent way possible.
TSIOULCAS: Bychkov says he understands why some Russian artists are in a very difficult position right now.
BYCHKOV: It is a true dictatorship. And people who live there - life is complicated. They have families. They have jobs. They have obligations imposed on them. I would never judge them because it's really very hard. Each person has to find one's own way.
TSIOULCAS: And for now, each individual and institution is making their own decisions.
Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.
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