Appeasement at the Opera

Wall Street Opinion Journal Roger Kimball September 28, 2006

Mozart falls victim to fear of Muslim rage.

About the only thing less pleasing than having to sit through Hans Neuenfels’s production of Mozart’s 1781 opera “Idomeneo” is the news that Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, citing an “incalculable” security risk from enraged Muslims, has decided to cancel its scheduled showing of the piece.

Don’t get me wrong. I am certain that the production, which premiered in 2003, is a horror. In Mozart’s version, the opera, set on Crete in the aftermath of the Trojan War, is a play about sacrifice and reconciliation. The opera ends with King Idomeneo issuing a “last command. I announce peace,” before ceding power to his son.

Mr. Neuenfels’s version is Modern German–i.e., gratuitously offensive. It is more Neuenfels than Mozart. Instead of appearing as the harbinger of peace, Idomeneo ends the opera parading the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad. How do you spell “anachronistic balderdash”?

Poor Mozart. Mr. Neuenfels is one of those directors more interested in nurturing his own pathologies than in offering a faithful presentation of the geniuses with whose work he has been entrusted.

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Comments

  1. Josh in Berlin says:

    It seems that the cancellation will be revoked and this opera will be shown after all. What a great and shrewd publicity stunt the opera house made by first announcing the cancellation. Usually hardly anybody would be interested in that opera, but now it is the talk of the town.

    I think I am in a very small minority in Germany who approved of the cancellation. That opera is an insult to other religions (since it shows the severed heads of Jesus and Buddha as well) and to Mozart, the composer, himself.

    What benefit would we get if we had this opera? It seems the only reason to defend this stupid opera is to avoid giving the impression of appeasement to the Islamofascists. That’s not enough for me. I think this opera would only strengthen Islamofasicsm since it would help their propaganda. To win the war on terrorism, we need to have moderate Muslims on our side, so that they don’t support the terrorists, but give us information about them. And we want the moderate Muslims to win over their autocratic governments and fundamentalist groups in the Arab world. This opera, however, alienates the moderate Muslims and helps the fundamentalists.

    Let’s not forget that theater plays critical of Christians and Israel also get canceled. Earlier this year:
    “A New York theatre company has put off plans to stage a play about an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza because of the current “political climate” – a decision the play’s British director, Alan Rickman, denounced as “censorship”.” Article here.

    I am not a fan of Rachel Corrie. Not at all. However, if one criticizes the canellation of the Mozart opera for fear of offending Muslimes, then one should also criticize the canceling of that play for fear of offending supporters of Israel..

    Besides:
    “On May 23, 1998, the New York Times announced that the Manhattan Theatre Club would be canceling its scheduled production of playwright Terrence McNally’s newest play, Corpus Christi, due to bomb and death threats made against the theatre, its personnel, and the playwright. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights disavowed responsibility for the threats but did publicly applaud the decision, calling the play “blasphemous.”" Article here.

    When Corpus Christi was shown in Germany in 2000, there have been death threats and bomb threats as well: Article here.

    Thus it could very well be that the threats against the “Idomeneo” opera are not only coming from Muslims, but from Christians, who don’t like to see the severed head of Jesus… Having said that: The concern about attacks from Muslims is bigger.

    Greetings from Berlin,
    My blog: The Atlantic Review, A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni

  2. Christopher says:

    “Thus it could very well be that the threats against the “Idomeneo” opera are not only coming from Muslims, but from Christians, who don’t like to see the severed head of Jesus…”

    Interesting post Josh (when I have more time I will speak to what I think is a fundamental inconstancy). At this time, I just want to point out the simple fact that it is very, very unlikely Christian “terrorists” are threatening the opera and it’s staff. IF you have any evidence of Christian “terrorists”, please let me in on it. This seems like a bit of a stretch (to understate it) that Christian terrorism has any part to play in this decision…

  3. What strikes me about Josh’s response is that he is correct about the contempt shown towards religion across the board by the opera. I posted the piece because it showed the dilemma between garbage art (yes, some art is garbage) and the value of free expression.

    The problem here is that free expression protects the cultural despiser, who if they had their way, would abolish free expression altogether. Why? Because they despise culture, especially the moral values that give rise to such cultural values as free expression. The opera is symptomatic of our age: cultural despisers are elevated as the guardians of culture when in fact they are vandals; a moral inversion has taken place.

    Where Josh’s analysis falls short is that he doesn’t take the question to this deeper level of how morality shapes culture. The cancellation remains primarily a socio/political question (which on one level it is). The difference between Muslim and Christian objections however really lies in the different ideas of how conversion to a higher ideal occurs (and yes, the Muslim objection does point to a higher ideal; its not hard to elevate an ideal above the contempt and debasement masquerading as art here). Muslim ideology allows no room for the rejection of the Muslim faith without penalty. In Christian countries you are free to not be Christian. Conversion is not coerced, IOW.

    But what do you do with people who use freedom in order to destroy it?

  4. Michael Bauman says:

    Fr. Hans, people who use freedom to destroy it are simply following the path of least resistence. They are sucumbing to and imitating the tryanny of sin and death. They believe that chaos is freedom and anything that requires order and obediance as true art does hinders their expression. Of course they end up unable to create anything and are only able to destroy. From their efforts at destruction they get an adreneline rush perhaps and certainly a feeling of superiority and power.

    What do we do? Hold fast to the Incarnational reality of the Church, refuse to submit, accept the victory that Christ has won for us on the Cross. All the things we are asked to do by our Lord in our daily lives as Christians. Simple to say, hard to do.