Soprano Takes the Stand: Netrebko Sues the Met over Canceled Contract

Sasha Kudler

In 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Metropolitan Opera (“the Met”) abruptly cut ties with Russian soprano Anna Netrebko.[1] Now, the world-famous diva is suing, alleging discrimination, breach of contract, and defamation.[2]

Since her 2002 debut at the Met as Natasha in Prokofiev’s War and Peace, Netrebko has been a fixture on the Met’s stage, performing more than 21 roles with the company.[3] After the Russian invasion, however, the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb released a video statement, claiming that as long as the violence continued, the Met would no longer “engage with artists or institutions that support Putin or are supported by him.”[4] Although Netrebko posted a statement opposing the war, the Met still felt she had not “comp[lied] with the Met’s condition that she repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin,” and severed their ties with the soprano in March of 2022.[5] Since then, Netrebko has faced similar cancellations both in Russia and abroad, although she has still maintained a relatively busy performing schedule.

Netrebko’s first legal action took the form of a complaint filed through the American Guild of Musical Artists.[6] The ensuing arbitration was a mixed bag. On the one hand, arbitrator Howard Edelmen ruled that the Met must pay Netrebko around $200,000 as compensation for the canceled performances. This was in large part due to the “pay or play” clause included in Netrebko’s contract. Netrebko’s alignment with Putin, the arbitrator felt, was “certainly not moral turpitude or worthy, in and of itself, of actionable misconduct.”[7] On the other hand, the arbitrator slapped Netrebko with a penalty in the ballpark of $30,000, citing “highly inappropriate” statements she made after the invasion of Ukraine. Perhaps most importantly from Netrebko’s perspective, the arbitrator refused to award an additional $400,000 in fees that Netrebko was seeking for future engagements that had been discussed but not expressly agreed upon, including starring roles in Tosca, Manon Lescaut, and Macbeth,[8] all of which Netrebko had previously performed at the Met.

Although the arbitration has ended, the legal battle between Netrebko and the Met is far from over. On August 4, 2023, Netrebko filed a complaint against Peter Gelb and the Metropolitan Opera in federal court in the Southern District of New York. Seeking upwards of $360,000 in damages, Netrebko accuses the Met of (among other things) national origin discrimination, defaming her in statements to the press, breaching their contract with her by refusing to remunerate her for lost work, and causing her emotional distress and reputational damage.[9] In the complaint, Netrebko specifically cites Gelb's (and the Met’s) requirement that she issue a statement about Putin as an example of discrimination due to her national origin. The Met will likely refute this by pointing to her ties to Putin, which include various endorsements throughout the years.[10]

Whether that rebuttal will stand up in court remains to be seen, but according to the Met, the lawsuit has “no merit.”[11] If the suit moves forward, it will be interesting to see whether the judge agrees.


[1] See Javier C. Hernández, Anna Netrebko, Russian Diva, is Out at the Metropolitan Opera, N.Y. Times (Mar. 3, 2022), [] [].

[2] See Shera Avi-Yonah, Russian Opera Star Sues the Met for Alleged Ousting Over Ukraine War, Wash. Post  (Aug. 4, 2023), ​​ [] [].

[3] Press Release, The Metropolitan Opera, Acclaimed Soprano Anna Netrebko Sings Her First Met Aida (Sept. 11, 2018), [] [].

[4] Press Release, Peter Gelb, A Message From Peter Gelb, [] [].

[5] Press Release, The Metropolitan Opera, Anna Netrebko Withdraws from Met Performances this Spring (Mar. 3, 2022), [] [].

[6] The American Guild of Musical Artists (“AGMA”) is the labor union for opera singers and many other performers and staging staff across the United States.

[7] Maddy Shaw Roberts, Met Opera Ordered to Pay Anna Netrebko $200,000 for Cancellations Over Putin Ties, Classic FM (Mar. 20, 2023), [] [].

[8] See Javier C. Hernández, Met Opera Ordered to Pay Anna Netrebko $200,000 for Canceled Performances, N.Y. Times (Mar. 17, 2023), [] [].

[9] See Javier C. Hernández, Anna Netrebko Sues Met Opera After Losing Work Over Support of Putin, N.Y. Times (Aug. 4, 2023), [] [].

[10] Javier C. Hernández, The Netrebko Question, N.Y. Times (Jun. 22, 2022), [] [].

[11] Javier C. Hernández, Anna Netrebko Sues Met Opera After Losing Work Over Support of Putin, N.Y. Times (Aug. 4, 2023), [] [].