…who messes with art, said Melbourne. The Deutsche Oper Berlin has cancelled performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo because the production featured an added ending scene (to what music, one wonders) in which the severed heads of Christ, Mohammed, the Buddha, and Poseidon are placed on stools to show, um, something about how the founders of all religions have caused wars and bloodshed. Apparently the company received threats from Moslems.
It should, of course, have received threats of ridicule and not buying tickets, from activist cells of sane people whose sense of the ridiculous is intact. I actually think restaging and experimenting with opera is a duty we owe the past and ourselves; performing arts are supposed to be performed, and performance is not rolling a video, it’s an active experimental process. But artists (in this case, Hans Neufels, the director) are also liable to be held accountable for pointless acts of self-indulgence and plain stupidity. How pasting a simple-minded political poster on the end of this opera connects with anything in it escapes me completely: Idomeneo has even less to do with religion than Die Entführung aus dem Serail! The war that sets it up wasn’t a religious war, it was a squabble of guys over a girl, aided and abetted by meddling gods with their own personal spats under way. Mozart’s Poseidon is a comic-book character with magic powers, not a source of moral guidance or an object of theological concern. And anyway, he’s not a prophet, like the other three; this is like ending The Nutcracker with a cautionary little dance of people dying from too much coffee, tea, chocolate and sugar plums, and sneezing from flower allergies: ignorant and ludicrous.
Before we get bent out of shape protecting the political rights of artists to express themselves in a case like this, it might be good for everyone to treat them like grownups and not just indulge childish behavior and artistic fecklessness.
Extension of remarks: Josh points out something I hadn’t noticed. It’s quite interesting that 2003 protests of the production, apparently from various groups with no particular Islamic tilt, have morphed into a “risk” taken by all commentators to be mostly Islamic, without any details on specific threats or sources. Josh is right: all the German participants in the debate seem to have implicitly taken this as an “Islamic thing” but there doesn’t seem to be a fact link to that perception.