Bolshoi and Met announce first operatic collaboration, starring Anna Netrebko in Aida, Salome and Lohengrin

Director general of the Bolshoi Theatre Vladimir Urin (right) and general manager of the Metropolitan Opera Peter Gelb give a press conference on the joint projects.
Director general of the Bolshoi Theatre Vladimir Urin (right) and general manager of the Metropolitan Opera Peter Gelb give a press conference on the joint projects.PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's Bolshoi theatre and New York's Metropolitan Opera on Monday announced plans to work together for the first time, co-producing three operas all starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko.

The New York opera house's general manager Peter Gelb and Bolshoi director Vladimir Urin announced the plans at a joint news conference in the Moscow theatre.

The theatres will co-produce three operas - Verdi's Aida, Strauss's Salome and Wagner's Lohengrin - to be staged both in Moscow and in New York between 2019 and 2022.

The Met's star singer Netrebko, who holds dual Russian and Austrian citizenship, will perform on both stages in the lead roles in Aida and Salome and the main soprano role in Lohengrin, the theatres said in a joint statement.

The major cultural exchange between the Russian and US musical heavyweights comes at a period of frosty political relations between the two countries.

While stressing that the partnership has nothing to do with politics, both Gelb and Urin called it a positive step.

"I strongly believe that these kind of events allow us to better understand each other," said Urin.

"But we are doing this because we think it is necessary from an artistic point of view," he added.

Gelb referred back to the thawing of ties under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his US counterpart Ronald Reagan.

"I remember very well when Gorbachev and Reagan signed their first accord and it began with a cultural exchange," he said.

But Gelb stressed however that his "presence here has nothing to do with politics." The Bolshoi and the Metropolitan have never worked together before although the Russian theatre's ballet troupe has performed in New York since 1959.

The leading US opera house has never performed in Russia.

Gelb, who has managed the Metropolitan Opera for 12 years, said it has previously been sceptical about co-productions but made an exception to work with a theatre "with such a great history."

The Bolshoi is currently caught up in a politically tinged scandal as it prepares to stage a new ballet based on the life of Rudolf Nureyev, the Soviet ballet star who defected to the West.

The ballet's renowned director Kirill Serebrennikov is under house arrest on charges of embezzling state funds in a case many see as politically motivated after he criticised censorship of the arts under President Vladimir Putin.

The Nureyev ballet's premiere is set for December after being postponed in July.