The Deutsche Oper in Berlin on Monday cancelled a production of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” because of fears of inciting Muslim protesters to violence. There was a lot of Sturm und Drang as a result. Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germans shouldn’t “bow to fears of Islamic violence.”
If you’re puzzled—no, it’s not the opera itself that’s a perceived problem (whew!). The avant-garde production of the opera includes Idomeneo—the lead character—pulling the bloody heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha from a sack. That’s not a scene in the libretto, but was the brainchild of the enfant terrible director, Hans Neuenfels.
The opera company isn’t worried, seemingly, about violent pagans, Christians, or Buddhists causing problems—though their deities or prophets are also treated ignominiously in the production. Though “Jerry Springer: The Opera” and its broadcast by the BBC did have a lot of Christians non-violently protesting the depiction of Jesus in diapers and saying: “Actually, I am a bit gay.” And, of course, Madonna’s recent crucifixion act caused a bit of a stir.
Maybe some of Mozart’s other operas in the future could present problems if ethnic tensions build up. After all, there is a pasha in “The Abduction from the Seraglio” that’s treated with contempt. In “The Magic Flute” the evil Moor Monostatos gets his comeuppance. And, of course, outside the world of opera, Shakespeare is always under fire for his depiction of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.”
The Deutsche Oper’s action has been condemned by those who believe in free speech, as it seems to be capitulating to those who would repress free artistic expression. All that free expression is fine—let people buy tickets or not to see another deconstructionist “Director’s Opera.” For me, I’ll put my money on Mozart straight, without Neuenfels’ additions.