A protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws disrupted the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala in New York City last night.

The Metropolitan Opera was hosting a Russian-themed gala for the opening night of its production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, when a male protester began shouting that Vladimir Putin should end his “war on Russian gays.”

As the lights dimmed for the start of the performance, the man launched criticism at two of the production’s Russian stars, opera singer Anna Netrebko and artistic director Valery Gergiev, shouting: “Anna, your silence is killing Russian gays! Valery, your silence is killing Russian gays!”

Both Ms Netrebko and Mr Gergiev were vocal supporters of Vladimir Putin during the last Russian presidential election,

Audience members tried to hush the man, before security guards arrived and asked four protesters to leave, which they agreed to do willingly,

Several protesters had already held a demonstration outside the Met building earlier in the evening, holding up a 50ft rainbow banner bearing the slogan “Support Russian Gays!”

One of the organisers of the protest, Bill Dobbs, said: “This is a way to pressure Putin, because Putin is using culture, and the Olympics, to divert from human rights abuses.”

Before the gala, an online petition urging the Met to dedicate the performance to gay rights in Russia had attracted more than 9,000 signatures.  The petition, started by gay composer Andrew Rudin, noted that Tchaikovsky’s work was being performed by artists who supported a Russian Government that had passed anti-gay laws.

Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met Opera, wrote an opinion piece for Bloomberg News over the weekend however, which stated that while he and other members of the opera company were personally opposed to the “tyranny” of Russia’s anti-gay laws, it would not be appropriate to associate the opera’s performance with political causes.

While Mr Gergiev hasn’t commented on the controversy, in a statement posted on Facebook Ms Netrebko said: “As an artist, it is my great joy to collaborate with all of my wonderful colleagues — regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I have never and will never discriminate against anyone.”

The performance of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin comes a week after Russia’s culture minister denied that the world-renowned composer was gay, saying there was “no evidence” of his homosexuality.

In his opinion piece, Peter Gelb had said: “Although Russia may officially be in denial about Tchaikovsky’s sexuality, we’re not. The Met is proud to present Russia’s great gay composer. That is a message in itself.”

Vladimir Putin signed the controversial anti-gay legislation into law in June. Under the terms of the law, the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations towards minors” will be punishable by large fines, or imprisonment.