When deeply down in the dumps (a plight for all of us in these times of wars and pandemics) I turn to psychotherapeutic YouTube, to the temporary pain-relief of video clips of spirits-reviving performances of music and theatre.
Some of these video clips are, problematically now, of Russian artists.
So for example my repertoire of these joy-restoring clips includes the 4:56 seconds of Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (I have worshipped her for yonks) as Nadina in Donizetti's The Elixir of Love. She is trilling feistily that she has no need of fake love potions because "My face is my elixir!" The clip itself, in better times, is an Elixir of Optimism for all of us.
But now one reads "The soprano Anna Netrebko, facing the prospect of prohibitions has cancelled all performances until further notice. She has spoken admiringly of Putin..."
What cognitive dissonance there is here for the music lover! Netrebko's voice is from Heaven but she appears to admire a satanic man.
In it (in eerie imitation of my own good fortune in marrying a fine woman far above my station), a grease-grimed downtown man, a mechanic at a service station, somehow gets the breathtakingly lovely Uptown Girl who has just shimmered into the service station in her chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. Rapture!
Then, back among the problematical Russians, my YouTube repertoire includes the Mazurka from a perfect Bolshoi Ballet Moscow 2018 production of Delibes' ballet Coppelia.
I had just turned to the Mazurka's four minutes and 18 seconds of pure joy one morning this week (the gay costumes! the exuberance of the maidens and men! one has to be clinically dead to not want to join them in their dance!) when a sudden small pang of conscience gnawed at me.
For the news is alive with reports of cancellations and boycottings of Russian music and Russian performers in responses to Putin's atrocities in the Ukraine. Netrebko is cancelled. The Royal Opera House and New York's Met have cancelled appearances from the Bolshoi. A Welsh orchestra has dropped Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky's ultra-Russian 1812 Overture from a forthcoming program.
Some are ridiculing the Welsh orchestra's decision. I did at first but now take the view that the decision is well-meant. If it is a little silly it is only indicative of the feeling so many of us have in our helplessness that we should be doing something, anything to express revulsion at what Putin's Russia is doing.
So should the lover of Russian artists be cancelling them from his home theatre? For the moment this columnist's usually unmitigated delight in Anna Netrebko and in the Bolshoi feels confusingly mitigated.
For the London Review of Books Ian Pace agonises over these cancelling dilemmas in his piece Why cancel Tchaikovsky?
"During a time of war," he reflects, "it is inevitable ... to limit some cultural interactions with an enemy nation."
"Is it any more unreasonable to want to postpone a performance of the bombastic and militaristic 1812 Overture than it was for the British conductor Mark Elder to express doubts about conducting the Last Night of the Proms [with all its jingoistic pomp and circumstance] following the outbreak of the 1991 Gulf War? Elder was promptly replaced."
"Moral and aesthetic considerations cannot be assumed to mirror one another," Pace continues, putting his finger on the issue for a columnist who is aesthetically in love with Anna Netrebko while disgusted by her [reported] political morals.
"[And] in the hoped-for event of an ultimate ceasefire and Russian withdrawal," Pace wonders on, "what happens to Russian music and musicians then? To 'cancel' them in the long term would be futile and culturally impoverishing ..."
Yes, banishing Anna Netrebko and the Bolshoi from one's home theatre might give a passing (but perhaps futile and illusory) inner glow of a sense of making one's own little personal contribution to the world's condemnation of Russia. But perhaps this is the very time not to cancel but to admire and to celebrate good Russia's matchless contributions to the arts, contributions surely lost on the slab-faced KGB philistine, Putin.
Perhaps this is the very time for us to invite the Bolshoi to add some uplifting Mazurka to our lives, for us to be disgusted by one Russian pariah while thinking well of good-hearted Russians per se and praying they will one day be rid of tyrants.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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