From the Feuilletons


"Idomeneo" cancelled at Berlin's Deutsche Oper

Toward the end of Hans Neuenfels' version of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo", which has been shown at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin for the last three years, the hero presents the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and well, yes, Muhammad. Kirsten Harms, director the opera house, has cancelled the production, which was scheduled to resume in November. The reason: after an anonymous phone call, Berlin's Criminal Investigation Office concluded the performance could represent "an incalculable security risk." There were no concrete threats, only one call by a frightened opera-goer to the Berlin police. At first, Harms wanted to let the production simply disappear from the repertoire. But then a wave of outrage came down on her. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised the decision: "Self-censorship out of fear is not tolerable." Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called the decision "laughable". The papers, which showed less courage in the discussion over printing the Muhammad caricatures, now react with angry comments. And the whole commotion is taking place on the day when numerous prominent Muslims are in Berlin on Schäuble's invitation for a conference on Islam in Germany.

Berliner Zeitung, 27.09.2006

The story is covered on the paper's front page. Harald Jähner, editor of the cultural pages, mocks "German culture," which "is famed all over the world for its state-subsidised courage. Nowhere else on earth does so much stage blood flow as in our theatres. Litres of the stuff are poured over people's heads, actors shit, masturbate and ejaculate naked on stage. And when people run out of ideas for how to get a few people to leave the theatre in anger, they stick a cross right next to the orgy so that at least the local bishop will be obliged by his congregation to write a letter of protest. Then the amassed intellectual forces of the Republic rally in defence of artistic freedom and give the poor bishop a proper scare... Now the Deutsche Oper is giving an impressive demonstration of how little courage for such scandals there really is in our de-sensitised public sphere: none at all. Because as soon as people even start imagining an audience that could react differently, one that could really take offence at what's happening on stage, the performance is struck from the programme."

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 27.09.2006

"It can have formidable repercussions for art if the scissors in our heads already start snipping away on the basis of the most diffuse facts," says Hans Neuenfels, director of the "Idomeneo" production, in an interview with Christine Dössel. "Four heads roll, that is very important – Muhammad's head is just one of them. They are the heads of world-famous founders of religions. Among them is the Greek god Poseidon, who demands the death by sacrifice of Idomeneo's son. What's really key here is the subjective viewpoint of Idomeneo, who at the end has no time for the fanaticism of any religion and frees himself from all religious ties. Deeply agitated, Idomeno has cut himself off from his previous world-view and discovered his own true substance. The production isn't against Islam or any other religion. It's a discourse on how religions are founded."

Spiegel Online, 27.09.2006

Henryk M. Broder feels very discriminated against by Neuenfels' production of "Idomeneo". "After the Catholic church spent 359 years trying to annul the judgement against Galileo Galilei (more), the current Pope only needs two days to distance himself from a quote that is 500 years old and yet still valid.... And now the Deutsche Oper in Berlin has taken 'Idomeneo' from its programme after the Criminal Investigation Office found in an 'endangerment analysis' that 'one can't rule out the possibility of disturbances.' In Hans Neuenfels' production of a Mozart opera that is more than 200 years old, Idomeneo, King of Crete, comes on stage with a bloody sack from which he removes and holds up the hacked-off heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed. And I, as a secular, non-believing Jew am offended. I feel hurt, discriminated against, alienated. Where is Moses' head? What's this contempt of religion supposed to mean?"

Der Tagesspiegel, 27.09.2006

"An opera that is interrupted by disturbances - that's the best thing one could wish for," writes director Christoph Schlingensief, recalling the experience he had with his staging of "Parsifal" in Bayreuth (more). "In the second act, Kundry asks Parsifal: Do you have any idea what's going on with me, what I have to deal with? You're only worried about your own problems. That's how I imagine a fight between Jesus and God or between two lovers. Kundry wears a black burka. In the third act, she takes Parsifal's cloaks off and he takes off her burka. That may be kitsch but that's what it's about: that people are stripped of their mandates and are able to encounter each other as people. Religion is getting more important because we need relics, relics of the metaphysical: a splinter from the Cross or the beer coaster that Cardinal Ratzinger put his stein on. The world is crying out for something supernatural, for an increase of significance that is in no way tangible. That's what we defend, and it's why we're fighting now."

Die Zeit, 27.09.2006

In Die Zeit Online, Klaus Harpprecht defends Kirsten Harms against widespread criticism, which he finds extremely cheap. "The head of the opera house is a clever and, as her career demonstrates, courageous woman. It would be too easy to badmouth the poor woman, who no doubt followed the dictates imposed by her responsibility with a heavy heart. If an explosion were to happen within 100 meters of the opera house, to say nothing of a real catastrophe, the outraged headlines – which in this case should be called rolling headlines – of the Bild Zeitung would cover the paper's entire front page. No commentator would refrain from attacking Harms; the potential for journalistic hypocrisy knows no bounds. Nevertheless the decision to cancel the performance was dead wrong."

Frankfurter Rundschau, 27.09.2006

Knut Pries is alone in his support of Kirsten Harm's decision to strike "Idomeneo" from the Deutsche Oper programme. "What we're seeing is a choir of the cheaply empowered and outraged. Those who blame the director are taking the easy route. Frau Harms didn't capitulate without thinking, she made a rational decision under pressure, in the security interests of those on both sides of the curtain. If a threat has been identified by a qualified authority, it's not the responsibility of an opera ensemble to defend art by means of an aria."

In other stories...

Spiegel Online, 27.09.2006

Navid Kermani explains in an interview what he expects from the Islam conference that is being opened today by Interior Minister Schäuble (more). He's concerned that the fear of terrorism will overshadow the conference. "I'm not in favour of avoiding everything that could possibly offend certain people. I'm opposed to every kind of 'Lex Islam.' Muslims definitely don't need this kind of support. What they need are the same rights, not special rights." (See our features by Navid Kermani here)

Die Zeit, 27.09.2006

Necla Kelek (more), who is also participating in the Islam conference, demands a clearer distinction between moderate Muslims and fundamentalists, and a clear definition of rules to be abided by. "For example the prohibition of head-scarves and Koran classes in primary school. All children should be handled equally, German and Muslim. And there should be a right to childhood. That would be for me a wonderful result. That Muslim children are finally allowed to be children and that there is strict abidance of physical inviolability. So, no circumcision, no corporal punishment. When children enter puberty, then you can decide how to give them Islam lessons. Thank God that Interior Minister Schäuble has clear notions on this front: they have to be in German, they have to be conducted by people that have been educated here and are supervised by the German state." (See our feature "Happier without father" by Necla Kelek here) - let's talk european