On the Deutsche Oper’s Cancellation of Idomeneo

Signandsight translates Harald Jähner on the Deutsche Oper’s cancellation of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” in the Berliner Zeitung.

The Deutsche Oper demonstrates very nicely how little courage the de-sensitised public can summon for such scandals: none, to be precise. As soon as there’s even a vague notion that an audience that could respond differently, that it might take offence to the action on stage, the performance gets struck from the programme. In response to the assessment by Berlin’s Criminal Investigation Office that the three-year-old Neuenfels production might offend pious Muslims and could lead to reprisals, the director of the opera house, Kirsten Harms, censored herself and cancelled the performance.

This is dangerous and misguided for many reasons. First, the anticipatory obedience of the opera house director will make potential terrorists aware of what was to be seen in her house since its premiere in March of 2003: Idomeneo presenting, alongside those of Poseidon, Jesus and Buddha, the hacked-off head of Muhammad. The audience and staff of the Deutsche Oper will be far more endangered by this sudden pronouncement than they would have been by the piece itself, which thus far had not raised the ire of a single Muslim…

The sensitivity of many Muslims with respect to the Prophet and insults against him has unsettled our understanding of artistic freedom. There’s an upside to that: the unsettledness has lead to a heightening. The debate on the Muhammad caricatures didn’t only frighten Western artists, it also made them more aware of the effectiveness of art than they had been for a long time. What unholy fury art can release in societies that have yet to dissociate art from seriousness! For this and other reasons, cultural respect of religious feelings has grown markedly. In the midst of modern society, art accrues religion – Christianity included – as a kind of forgotten relative, viewing it with scepticism, new-found respect or animosity. [Director Hans] Neuenfels’ four-fold critique of religion must be understood in this context.

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