Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Back in 1991, my parents attended a performance of the Israel Philharmonic in Jerusalem, featuring Isaac Stern (pictured) as the soloist. This was during the Persian Gulf War, and Israelis had been conditioned to bring their gas masks with them everywhere they went, in case Saddam Hussein launched a gas attack via missile. As recounted in this archived report from People Magazine, during the concert, the air raid siren went off. The orchestra left the stage, while the audience stayed seated and each audience member put on a gas mask. Stern came back on stage and played solo music, his gas mask at his feet, until the all clear sounded.
I remembered this event today as I read in today's New York Times that a number of opera stars have pulled out of the Metropolitan Opera's scheduled tour of Japan. According to the Times report, 350 members of the Opera company will be traveling to Nagoya and Tokyo for a scheduled two-week run. Two tenors and a soprano have withdrawn from the trip, apparently due to concerns over the dangers of radiation emanating from the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that was crippled in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.
It appears that most of the company's members are obligated under their union contracts to proceed with the tour. However as the Met's general manager explained, "[s]tars are stars. They’re different than company members." One of those stars lived through the trauma of the Chernobyl disaster and did not want to re-visit the experience of radiation exposure. That's something Isaac Stern would no doubt have understood. After all, he was born in Ukraine.