Gay rights activists halted a performance of a Russian opera in New York City on Monday night (23Sep13) to protest in front of a star-studded opening night crowd which included Brooke Shields, Heather Graham and Diane Kruger.

The Big Apple's Metropolitan Opera company launched the new season with a performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, but the show at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan was targeted by campaigners.

A picket line formed outside the Metropolitan Opera House, with activists protesting against anti-gay laws in Russia, and the demonstration continued inside the building when around 12 activists burst into the auditorium during the performance.

The group singled out Russian performer Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev for particular criticism, shouting, "Anna, your silence is killing Russian gays! Valery, your silence is killing Russian gays!"

An opera-goer tells New York Post gossip column Page Six, "Eight to 12 protesters (started yelling from the balconies,) 'Down with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin' and, 'Free Russian gays!'... No one expected it. There was screaming and yelling coming from multiple balconies. People started booing... They stopped the opera and guards had to rush in."

The show restarted after the protesters were removed. No arrests were made.

Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, previously commented on plans to picket the company's opening night: "We respect the right of activists to picket our opening night and we realise that we've provided them with a platform to further raise awareness about serious human rights issues abroad."