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The Greatest 21st Century Threat to The Arts?

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Boom_70, Sep 27, 2006.

  1. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    The Christian Right?

    Rudy ?

    The Prophet Muhammad?

    September 27, 2006
    Opera Canceled Over a Depiction of Muhammad
    BERLIN, Sept. 26 — A leading German opera house has canceled performances of a Mozart opera because of security fears stirred by a scene that depicts the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad, prompting a storm of protest here about what many see as the surrender of artistic freedom.

    The Deutsche Oper Berlin said Tuesday that it had pulled “Idomeneo” from its fall schedule after the police warned of an “incalculable risk” to the performers and the audience.

    The company’s director, Kirsten Harms, said she regretted the decision but felt she had no choice. She said she was told in August that the police had received an anonymous threat, but she acted only after extensive deliberations.

    Political and cultural figures throughout Germany condemned the cancellation. Some said it recalled the decision of European newspapers not to reprint satirical cartoons about Muhammad, after their publication in Denmark generated a furor among Muslims.

    Wolfgang Börnsen, a culture spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc in Parliament, accused the opera house of “falling on its knees before the terrorists.”

    “It is a signal to other stages in Germany, or even elsewhere in Europe, to put no works on their programs that criticize Islam,” he said.

    The disputed scene is not part of Mozart’s opera, but was added by the director, Hans Neuenfels. In it, the king of Crete, Idomeneo, carries the heads of Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon on to the stage, placing each on a stool.

    “Idomeneo,” first performed in 1781, tells a mythical story of Poseidon, or Neptune, the god of the sea, who toys with men’s lives and demands spiteful sacrifice.

    The cancellation of the performances fanned a debate in Europe about whether the West is compromising values like free expression to avoid stoking anger in the Muslim world.

    Already in Germany, there is growing sentiment that Pope Benedict XVI may have overdone his contrition for a recent speech in Bavaria, in which he cited a historical reference to Islam as “evil and inhuman.” The speech set off waves of protests in Muslim countries.

    The interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, who has defended the pope and called for more dialogue with Muslims in Europe, said canceling the opera was unacceptable and “crazy.”

    Michael Naumann, a former German culture minister, said, “It’s a slap in the face of artistic freedom, by the artists themselves.” Mr. Naumann, now the publisher of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, added, “The pope showed the way by being so extraordinarily apologetic.”

    The sulfurous public reaction prompted some people to speculate that the decision might eventually be reversed.

    Ms. Harms said the “Idomeneo” production, which was first staged by the Deutsche Oper in 2003, would remain on the opera’s program. It could be performed later, she said, though she would have to consider the political and diplomatic aspects of “this complex issue.”

    The scene with the severed heads aroused controversy among Muslims and Christians when the Deutsche Oper first staged it. But the company was not the target of any organized protests, and the Deutsche Oper put four performances on its calendar for this November.

    Then, in August, came the anonymous threat.

    “All this came in light of the cartoon controversy,” said a police spokesman, Uwe Kozelnik. “We started to investigate and finally concluded that disturbances could not be ruled out.”

    While the police said they did not pressure the Deutsche Oper to cancel the opera, they supported the decision.

    Berlin’s chief security official, Ehrhart Körting, drew a parallel between the decision and that of German newspapers earlier this year to resist reprinting the cartoons depicting Muhammad.

    “Even the German journalists’ association criticized the reprinting of the cartoons because their publication could hurt the religious feelings of one group of people,” Mr. Körting said in a statement.

    Muslim leaders in Germany reacted cautiously. Several planned to participate in a conference on Wednesday organized by the government to foster a better dialogue with Germany’s 3.2 million Muslims.

    The leader of the Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, told a radio station in Berlin that he welcomed the cancellation, saying a depiction of decapitated Muhammad “could certainly offend Muslims.”

    “Nevertheless, of course, I think it is horrible that one has to be afraid,” Mr. Kizilkaya said, according to The Associated Press. “That is not the right way to open dialogue.”

    The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayyub Axel Köhler, declined to comment on the decision, saying he wanted to learn more about the circumstances.

    Those circumstances appear to be in some dispute.
  2. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member


    At a news conference on Tuesday, Ms. Harms said she broached the possibility of removing the offending scene with Mr. Neuenfels. When he resisted, she let the matter drop.

    However, a lawyer for Mr. Neuenfels, Peter Raue, said Ms. Harms telephoned the director on Sept. 9 to tell him she planned to cancel the performances. The issue of tinkering with the ending never came up, Mr. Raue said, and in any event, “you couldn’t change it; it is part of the story.”

    The scene devised by Mr. Neuenfels puts a sanguinary ending on an opera that, in the way Mozart wrote it, ends with King Idomeneo giving up his throne to appease the god of the sea, and blessing the romantic union of his son Idamante with the Greek princess Ilia.

    The severed heads of the religious figures, Mr. Raue said, was meant by Mr. Neuenfels to make a point that “all the founders of religions were figures that didn’t bring peace to the world.”

    André Kraft, spokesman for Komische Oper, a more adventurous opera house where Mr. Neuenfels is engaged in another Mozart production, described the 65-year-old director as “a secularist who does not believe religion solves the problems of the world.”

    For the Deutsche Oper, the cancellation is a major crisis for a prestigious opera company that has been in transition. Founded in 1912 as the Deutsches Opernhaus, the company moved to its present building in western Berlin in 1961, opening with a production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

    Ms. Harms was appointed director in 2004, coming from a less prominent opera house in the northern German city of Kiel. While there, she said, she faced a bomb threat to the opera house. Ms. Harms plans to present her first production, a little-known work by Alberto Franchetti called “Germania,” on Oct. 15.

    Some critics of the decision to cancel said it revealed the weaknesses of Berlin’s generously supported cultural institutions.

    “Because they are subsidized by the German state, there is a great deal of artistic independence, but also a lack of accountability and intellectual rigor,” said Gary Smith, the director of the American Academy in Berlin.

    The practice of updating classical operas — often with current political or social themes — is common in Germany. But the cancellation of “Idomeneo” could make this production a landmark of another kind.

    “I’ve never heard of something like this, or even similar to it,” said Nikolaus Lehnhoff, a prominent German opera director. “I have seen many politically incorrect performances in Berlin. I think the reaction to the pope’s speech has sensitized the cultural scene.”
  3. poindexter

    poindexter Well-Known Member

    Based on the firestorms over the Danish cartoons and the pope's comments, I understand the opera house's actions.
  4. terrier

    terrier Well-Known Member

    I prefer to live life without bowing to the intimidation of the Bush Administration and its amen corner among Judeo-Christian fundamentalists - or loopy Islamic fundamentalists, either.
  5. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Muslims, schmuslims. Greatest threat to the arts is that Christo guy, who wraps crap in plastic and acts like it's some kind of artwork.
  6. poindexter

    poindexter Well-Known Member

    Terrier, how is the Bush administration intimidating you? I have a laundry list of complaints about the Prez, but I'm not feeling intimidated. How's you?
  7. Armchair_QB

    Armchair_QB Well-Known Member

  8. cranberry

    cranberry Well-Known Member

    I was going to say Carrot Top, but he's more 20th Century, right?
  9. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Geez. I certainly hope so.
  10. Armchair_QB

    Armchair_QB Well-Known Member

    Now that's a guy somebody needs to declare jihad on.
  11. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    wouldn't it be a fatwa?
  12. Colonel Angus

    Colonel Angus Member

    I thought this thread was about Paris Hilton or Fergie ....
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