A Ukrainian-American pianist who has taken stances in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin has seen a scheduled concert at Venice’s storied La Fenice opera house cancelled by organizers after news of her positions emerged.
The pianist, Valentina Lisitsa, performed in front of Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow on May 2, 2022, to commemorate victims of 2014 Trade Unions House fire. She then performed in ruins in Mariupol on May 9, 2022, one of the scenes of alleged Russian war crimes.. “Music and culture must unite peoples and not divide them,” said the president of Venice’s Musikamera musical association, Sonia Finzi, stressing to ANSA that her organization has always been impartial.
La Fenice itself, which was only loaning the concert space, was not involved in the decision.
This is not the first time that Lisitsa has been involved in a similar controversy. In April 2015, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra cancelled concerts with Lisitsa, citing her “provocative” online remarks on her Twitter account; the orchestra initially did not specify which tweets or other commentary it believed crossed a line. Lisitsa said that the orchestra threatened her if she spoke about the cancellation. The CEO of Toronto Symphony later provided a seven-page compilation of her tweets that prompted this decision and noted that it was “not a free speech issue, but rather an issue of someone practicing very intolerant and offensive expression through Twitter”.
The Toronto Star criticised the orchestra’s decision in an editorial, noting that, “Lisitsa was not invited to Toronto to discuss her provocative political views. She was scheduled to play the piano. And second, banning a musician for expressing ‘opinions that some believe to be offensive’ shows an utter failure to grasp the concept of free speech.”
The Ukrainian Weekly has described her postings as “hate speech.” In response, she commented that “satire and hyperbole [are] the best literary tools to combat the lies”. In 2022, Benjamin Ivry, wrote in International Piano Magazine that Lisitsa had “parrot[ted] Putin’s propagandistic talking points about Ukraine”.
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