Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Mozart would not be amused

Mozart's opera Idomeneo won't be on the program this year at Berlin's Deutsche Oper. That's both a bad thing and a good thing.

It's bad because pulling the production has publicly been attributed to fears of a violent Muslim reaction to its staging, which includes a scene in which Mohammed is decapitated. I'm really tired of worrying about what some Muslim, somewhere, will take offense at. Defenders of Islam as the religion of peace should note that although Mohammed isn't the only religious figure who loses his head in this production, his followers are the only ones from whom retaliatory violence is being feared. And it's no wonder; look what happened when those relatively innocuous Danish cartoons surfaced.

But it's also good, because this production richly deserved to be yanked. It's a desecration of Mozart's original, which contains nothing remotely offensive to Muslims, and a fine example of what happens when the arts elites are allowed to do anything they feel like doing in order to "push the envelope". Gerald has an extensive post with photos and links, if you want to know more about this travesty, and why, given the general state of German theater today, it is hardly unexpected.

The scene that's causing the uproar isn't even in Mozart's original libretto. The director, Hans Neuenfels, made it up and tacked on it to the opera's end to amplify the title character's contempt for religion which, one can infer, he shares. Apparently Herr Neuenfels believed his audience would be too unsophisticated to understand that Idomeneo's rebellion against the god Poseidon could be taken allegorically and applied to the present day. So, embracing anachronism like a old buddy, Neuenfels treats the audience to the sight of Idomeneo bloodily beheading Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed onstage.

So the real problem in this whole brouhaha isn't really Mozart's Idomeneo; it's the ludicrous, contemptible esthetics of the director. I say: dump him, restage the production traditionally, or at least not insanely "updated", put it back on the schedule, and get on with honoring through respectful performance one of the geniuses of Western music.