Deutsche Oper Berlin Braces for Performance of Controversial Idomeneo

Classic Arts News   Deutsche Oper Berlin Braces for Performance of Controversial Idomeneo
There will be airport-style security, complete with metal detectors, at the Deutsche Oper Berlin tonight as the controversial Hans Neuenfels production of Mozart's Idomeneo, r di Creta receives the first of two performances this month.

Audience members entering the theater will be asked to empty their pockets and warned to evacuate quickly in case of a bomb threat, according to the Associated Press. Berlin police stationed at the opera house will be "ready for any eventuality," according to spokesman Bernhard Schodrowski, though they intend to keep their presence low-key.

The main point of contention in this now world-famous production is the final scene — added by director Neuenfels and nowhere in the opera's score or libretto — in which the titular king places on a row of chairs the severed heads of the prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, the Buddha and the Greek god Poseidon. (Only the last of those figures is referred to in any way in the opera itself.)

The Deutsche Oper has presented this production twice before, in 2003 and 2004; while there were some protests last time the staging was mounted, the controversy remained largely contained within German musical circles.

This year, tensions have been running higher than previously between many mainstream European societies and their Muslim minorities, particularly following the publication by a Danish newspaper earlier this year of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. When the Berlin police warned the Deutsche Oper of potential danger (even though there was no specific threat), the house cancelled the revival of this production planned for November. (Director Neuenfels insisted that the offending scene was integral to his concept of a protest against all organized religion and insisted it not be excised from the production.) A huge uproar ensued within Germany over freedom of expression and self-censorship, with the opera house coming under heavy criticism from German commentators and politicians right up to federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Berlin police subsequently reversed their danger assessment, and the Deutsche Oper announced two performances this month, tonight and December 29.

Several German Muslim leaders have declined invitations from Interior Minister Wolfgang Sch‹uble to attend the opera, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa). Ali Kizilkaya, chairman of the country's Council of Islam, turned down the offer last month, although he also rejected calls to ban the production. And Aiman Mazyek, secretary general of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, was quoted in yesterday's Tagesspiegel as saying, "I go to the opera to relax and not to be thrown into the same pot with religion, art and politics. I am a member of a religious community, not an arts critic."

Several secular leaders of the Turkish community in Germany will be in tonight's audience, however. Kenan Kolat, who heads the country's umbrella group of Turkish organizations, is not only attending but has criticized the Muslim religious groups who objected to the production, according to dpa. (His was one of the early voices to speak out against the initial cancellation.) Two Turkish-German women who sit on a government consultative board, Seyran Ates and Necla Kelek, also called for the production to continue and have stated publicly that they will attend tonight.

Interior Minister Sch‹uble will himself be in the audience, according to dpa, along with Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and federal culture minister Bernd Neumann. Not to mention members of the press: according to the magazine Der Spiegel, journalists from the likes of Le Monde, The Washington Post and the Saudi and Iranian state news agencies will be there to cover the event. The television channel 3SAT will broadcast the opera live as well. (Der Spiegel mentions that some of the reporters called the opera "Odomino" or "Idomedea" on press tickets requests.)

As for the prop heads of the prophets which were reported to have disappeared last week, a Deutsche Oper spokesperson indicated to the magazine that replacements have been made.

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