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Anna Netrebko Sues Met Opera After Losing Work Over Support of Putin

The star Russian soprano Anna Netrebko filed a lawsuit on Friday against the Metropolitan Opera, seeking at least $360,000 in compensation for work she lost when the company parted ways with her after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Netrebko was fired by the Met last year after refusing to denounce Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, whom she had publicly supported in the years before the invasion. In the complaint, she accuses the Met of discriminating against her because she is Russian; of issuing “defamatory” statements about her in the press; and of breaching contracts by not paying her for some lost work.

The Met disputed her claims. “Ms. Netrebko’s lawsuit has no merit,” the company said in a statement.

Netrebko has in recent months taken aim at the Met, filing a complaint last year through the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union representing opera performers.

In February, an arbitrator in that dispute ordered the Met to pay her more than $200,000 for 13 canceled performances because of a contractual agreement known as “pay or play,” which requires institutions to pay performers even if they later decide not to engage them. The Met had argued that Ms. Netrebko was not entitled to payment because of her refusal to comply with the company’s demand that she denounce Mr. Putin, which the company said had violated its conduct clause.

Still, the arbitrator refused Ms. Netrebko’s request for an additional $400,000 in fees for engagements in coming seasons that had been discussed but not formally agreed to, including leading roles in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and “Tosca,” as well as Verdi’s “Macbeth” and Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades.” Ms. Netrebko was earning the Met’s current fee for top artists of about $15,000 a performance.

The complaint filed by Ms. Netrebko on Friday said that the Met still owed her most of those additional fees, as well as compensation for emotional distress and damage to her reputation. The complaint accuses the Met and its general manager, Peter Gelb, who has been critical of Ms. Netrebko in the news media, of leading a “defamatory crusade” against her.

The suit notes that even after she publicly stated that she opposed the war, Mr. Gelb spoke with her on the phone and asked her to specifically denounce Mr. Putin. “Gelb indicated that if Netrebko issued such a statement, the Met would continue its relationship with her,” the suit said. “Netrebko responded that, as a Russian citizen, she could not make such a statement.”

The complaint is the latest effort by Netrebko, a major star and box-office draw, to rehabilitate her image. Netrebko still has a busy international performing schedule, largely in Europe. But since the invasion, she has faced cancellations and protests elsewhere, including in the United States and parts of Asia.

She has struggled to get beyond questions about her past support for Putin. She endorsed him for president in 2012, and has spoken glowingly about him over the years. And in 2014, when she donated to an opera house in Donetsk, a war-torn city in Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists, she was photographed holding a separatist flag.

Since the invasion, Ms. Netrebko has sought to distance herself from Putin, saying they have only met a few times.

Mr. Gelb has defended the Met’s decision to cut ties with Ms. Netrebko and other artists who have voiced support for Mr. Putin. “It’s more important than ever that our position does not change,” he said earlier this year, “until the war is won by Ukraine.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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