So there I was, in the middle of the opening night of Tannhäuser at the Metropolitan Opera, when the shouting started. “Climate protesters,” or “climate activists”—the usual grotesques—were shouting “No opera on a dead planet,” and other such inanities. They placed themselves around the theater, timing it so that when one was arrested, another started shouting somewhere else. I counted five interruptions, though the first press reports say there were only four; did I get it wrong? The audience was displeased; I heard shouts of shame! and even, briefly from one member of the audience, U.S.A.! U.S.A.! The management finally announced that the program would go on no matter what, keeping the lights on so that security could remove people more quickly; either the thugs were exhausted, or the remainder figured that it wasn’t worth bothering with. So we finished the opera, with too much light, and (at least for me) some nervousness at every loud noise, thinking it might be another interruption.
There have been at least two previous intrusions at operas, in Amsterdam and Milan. Less than a day ago, pro-Hamas goons tried to interrupt the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Less than a week ago, others tried to disrupt the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It’s a general campaign to try to make normal life impossible until you give in to the radical demands.
That’s the short version, but it’s worth considering the various elements.
Partly this is just publicity, aimed at a larger audience than just the opera. The point is to publicize the cause. With that in mind, note the curiously full and immediate report by Hyperallergic’s Maya Pontone, which somehow found audience members sympathetic to the activists, included a quotation from a press release by Extinction Rebellion, and named one of the disruptors, whom Pontone was fortuitously able to interview. “Video taken from one of the balconies by Hyperallergic shows Met Opera staff forcibly escorting two of the demonstrators away.” Hyperallergic was remarkably fortunate, don’t you think, in having someone there at the opera to take that video? The article gives the impression that Pontone knew about the demonstration in advance, and that her publicity was planned.
Partly this is a campaign to pressure liberals to fall into line with radical dictates. The audience of the Metropolitan Opera, after all, is not (alas) MAGA country—it’s blue as a druid. When the fanatics go after the Met—or when they stage sit-ins at the New York Times, or mob the Democratic National Committee headquarters—they’re attacking soft targets, to bullyrag them into line. The Met’s tithe after the George Floyd riots was to start putting on a bunch of new woke operas, but it managed to preserve much of its repertory along traditional lines. I fear that its response to this latest outrage will be to commission climate-change operas, or to make a solemn announcement at the beginning of each opera that the Met favors some radical climate change policy.
Ultimately, this reflects the core radical urge to destroy any activity that isn’t dedicated to political activism. They mean what they say: to do anything but work for the goal of the day (climate, Palestine, whatever) is a treachery. Radical politics is a jealous god—and with good reason. Watch Tannhäuser as an aesthete, and you will find in its beauty something more compelling than any politics. Watch Tannhäuser and listen to its message, and you will find Christian belief, with such keywords as humility, salvation, forgiveness, and other concepts alien to radical activists. (Granted that Wagner was not himself a devout Christian; the message is still there.) Of course the radicals want to disrupt this opera. Who would want to devote himself to their childish destructiveness when he had Wagner as an alternative?
And likely as not, the radicals will win. The audience didn’t like them, but the liberal gentry are weak-minded. Ask them, if you had a choice between voting for Donald Trump to restore law and order or never hearing an opera again, which would you choose? By and large, they would say, we could never vote for Donald Trump! And they will quietly make some bargain that gives the radicals something they want, and then another, and then another—and 10 or 15 years from now, if the Met hasn’t folded from lousy sales, there’ll be nothing but woke operas that aren’t worth seeing.
Of course, it might yet end up otherwise, and we should all strive to make it so. I just wouldn’t take bets.
Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images