28 Sep 2006

Idomeneo and the Moors

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People in Savannah commonly point out that Sherman burned Atlanta, which proves there’s good in everybody.

The recent frequency of angry Islamic mobs pouring into the streets, mullahs making death threats, and hirsute ruffians demanding apologies has made Islamic rage awfully tiresome, but at least in the case of Berlin’s Deutsche Oper production of Idomeneo by vandalizing Opernregisseur Hans Neuenfels, they may be on to something.

One can tolerate anachronistic settings and surrealistic stagings, but if some blithering nincompoop transmogrifies an opera’s plot into the precise opposite of the original’s, I feel a modicum of intolerance myself, my own hand itches for a sharp Khyberee.

When today’s liberal cultural elite want to praise one of their favorite pieces of artistic bogosity, they usually apply terms like “transgressive” and “courageous.” It is instructive to observe how rapidly artistic “courage” vanishes and “transgression” retreats, when the whiff of an actual threat is in the air.

Time reports:

Neuenfels’ production, first staged in 2003, is intended to be a symbolic gesture about the dangers of fanaticism. Although the production caused barely a ripple, except to impress the critics in its earlier showings, the climate has changed since then.

In July, Germany’s state police in Wiesbaden said they received an anonymous telephone call from a woman expressing concern that the opera, due to be staged this fall, could offend Muslim sensibilities. A subsequent study by Berlin police found that it could not “exclude the possibility” that something bad would happen, noting that decapitation could be associated with the videos distributed by militant terrorists. Berlin senator, Erhart Körting telephoned the Deutsche Oper’s artistic director Kirsten Harms to recommend that she cancel the show because he did not want harm to come to the opera house. Harms agreed, hastily convening a press conference this week in the cavernous lobby of the modernist Deutsche Oper to announce that future performances would pose “incalculable risks” to the public.

Today, Germany’s Chancellor and Interior Minister, and Berlin’s mayor are all decrying the surrender, and demanding the production’s restoration to the Berlin Opera’s schedule. It will be interesting to see just how long their courage lasts. And it’s a such a pity that the object eliciting the uncharacteristic display of European backbone is not something more worthy of defense.


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