Berlin: Canning Mozart

Posted on October 10, 2006


by michael scott moore

You know there’s something wrong when a country’s politicians make tougher noises about free speech than its established artists, even if the artist in question directs a traditional and heavily-subsidized opera house in west Berlin.

Kristen Harms at the Deutsche Oper canned a revival of Idomeneo this fall because of a scene that involves Mohammed’s head on a platter (next to Jesus’ and the Buddha’s and Poseidon’s).

Of course it’s pure capitulation to Muslim “sensitivities,” but there are a few wrinkles. First, the police had informed the Opera about an anonymous threat. Second, the Opera tried to cut the offending scene, which after all doesn’t belong to the original Idomeneo. This version was scandalous when it premiered in 2003, but nothing else. The Opera asked the show’s director to change the scene for this revival, and the director refused.

Third, even though news of the threat came from the cops, no one in German government seems happy about the Opera’s decision, which means it would have been possible to raise a stink and win a line of cops outside the opera house in case of violent protests. Fourth, when was the last time an opera sparked violent protests? The publicity would have been tremendous. What were they *thinking?*