Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Blight on the Opera

Europe’s latest piece of cringing cultural appeasement has come not from politicians but the heart of the artistic establishment itself. The world famous Deutsche Oper in Berlin has cancelled performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo for fear of causing offence and unrest. As is reported in The Times today, the decision has caused outrage amongst politicians and commentators in Germany.

The scene in the opera which was apparently causing particular anxiety was that in which the King of Crete holds aloft the decapitated heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad and cries ‘The gods are dead!’ Presumably with the Pope’s recent comments in mind, a spokesman for Deutsche Oper said yesterday that putting on Idomeneo would ‘represent an incalculable security risk for the theatre at present.’ They made this announcement after having received a police report advising that ‘disturbances could not be excluded’ during performances of the opera.

Politicians across the spectrum have at least had the guts to condemn such craven behaviour, speaking out against the threat to freedom of expression which is all too real and of which this is just the latest example. As the Times reports, Peter Ramsauer, head of the conservative Christian Social Union parliamentary faction, said: ‘It is an act of pure cowardice. We are opening ourselves up to cultural blackmail.’

Yet again the European cultural elites, who profess to value artistic freedom above all else, are demonstrating their utter weakness when it comes to actually defending the liberal values they supposedly hold so dear. Perhaps this is to be expected when one considers the ingrained self-hatred and collapse of confidence which characterises so much of contemporary European culture – one which increasingly defines itself purely on the basis of hostility to America.

But what is especially worrying about this episode is that the self-censoring involves an established classic. Does this mean that, along with the self-imposed ban on any new cultural depictions of any aspect of Islam (which is effectively in place and which amounts to a form of unofficial sharia law), Europe will now look carefully at every aspect of its cultural heritage before displaying it?

Peter Whittle


Terry Hamblin said...

What a contrast to those who really believe something, who are prepared to die (rather than kill) for their beliefs; men like Latimer and Ridley, Cranmer and Polycarp. Fox journalists allowed themselves to be subjected to forced conversion at the hands of terrorists in Gaza. Polycarp when asked to deny Christ on pain of death, replied, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"

For all their belief in artistic freedom, and their willingness to offend Christians, the modern day cultural elite holds lightly to its beliefs when really put to the test.

Atlantic Review said...

It seems that the cancellation will be revoked and this opera will be shown after all. What a great and shrewd publicity stunt the opera house made by first announcing the cancellation. Usually hardly anybody would be interested in that opera, but now it is the talk of the town.

Let's not forget that theater plays critical of Christians and Israel also get canceled. Earlier this year:
"A New York theatre company has put off plans to stage a play about an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza because of the current "political climate" - a decision the play's British director, Alan Rickman, denounced as "censorship"."

I am not a fan of Rachel Corrie. Not at all. However, if one criticizes the canellation of the Mozart opera for fear of offending Muslimes, then one should also criticize the canceling of that play for fear of offending supporters of Israel..

"On May 23, 1998, the New York Times announced that the Manhattan Theatre Club would be canceling its scheduled production of playwright Terrence McNally's newest play, Corpus Christi, due to bomb and death threats made against the theatre, its personnel, and the playwright. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights disavowed responsibility for the threats but did publicly applaud the decision, calling the play "blasphemous.""

When Corpus Christi was shown in Germany in 2000, there have been death threats and bomb threats as well:

Thus it could very well be that the threats against the "Idomeneo" opera are not only coming from Muslims, but from Christians, who don't like to see the severed head of Jesus... Having said that: The concern about attacks from Muslims is bigger.

Atlantic Review said...

I think I am in a very small minority in Germany who approved of the cancellation. That opera is an insult to other religions (since it shows the severed heads of Jesus and Buddha as well) and to Mozart, the composer, himself.

What benefit would we get if we had this opera? It seems the only reason to defend this stupid opera is to avoid giving the impression of appeasement to the Islamofascists. That's not enough for me. I think this opera would only strengthen Islamofasicsm since it would help their propaganda. To win the war on terrorism, we need to have moderate Muslims on our side, so that they don't support the terrorists, but give us information about them. And we want the moderate Muslims to win over their autocratic governments and fundamentalist groups in the Arab world. This opera, however, alienates the moderate Muslims and helps the fundamentalists.

Greetings from Berlin,
My blog: The Atlantic Review, A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni

Anonymous said...

Yes, it has to be said that Mozart never wrote any such scene in which Idomeneo brandishes the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha, Poseidon and Muhammad. Neither the line "The gods are dead" that apparently accompanies it is in the Abbé Varesco's libretto.

These things come directly from the mind of the show's director, Hans Neuenfels, and one of the issues at stake in this row is the fidelity to the composer - whose opera's final scene is marked by the reconciliation between heaven and earth - and the risk of anachronism.

It doesn't justify the cancellation contemplated by the Deutsche Oper.
First, the production was created in 2003 and went along then without controversies.
Second, it seems that the main motivation was the fear to offend Muslims and not adepts of Jesus, Buddha or Poseidon...

As Chancellor Merkel said the cancellation is also a dangerous act of self-censorship at odds with the principles of liberal democracy and artistic expression. An act all the more dangerous that it comes after the demonstrations against danish cartoons or the Pope's speech in Rastibonne.
Those who think that we can appease radical Muslims, those who believe that they will respect us more because we show concerns for what Islamo-fascists may feel are wrong and pave the way for new Dark Ages.
And if the so-called moderate Muslims want to be part of our Western societies - as they well could be and indeed have been - they must understand and respect our heritage, our core values and find their own way to adapt to what is a more secular environment as did the Christian faiths indeed - thanks to Mozart and the great philosophers of the Enlightment.

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