The German Opera of Berlin (Deutsche Oper Berlin) has pulled a production of Mozart’s Idomeneo from its fall schedule on the advice of police. The production had included a scene featuring the severed heads of Mohammed, Jesus, and the Buddha, and the police worried that Muslims might get violent about it.
If you are familiar with Idomeneo you might wonder how Mohammed, Jesus, and the Buddha wandered into it, since those illustrious figures are not in the libretto. The New York Times has a photograph of a rehearsal — the chorus is dressed in black suits and “blues brothers” porkpie hats. (This is what passes for creativity in opera; take a story based on Greek myth and dress everybody up in the wrong costumes.) I assume the green guy is Neptune, who is in the libretto, and the woman dressed in the black suit (but no hat) is probably a mezzo-soprano playing the role of Idamante, son of Idomeneo, King of Crete. The role was written for a castrato, who are hard to come by these days, and so opera companies usually settle for a mezzo. An occasional tenor will take on the role, but I suspect the vocal range the part requires is not comfortable for most tenors.
In this opera Idomeneo is supposed to sacrifice Idamante to Neptune, but (after about three hours of other stuff) at the end an Oracle says Idomeneo doesn’t have to sacrifice Idamante and everybody lives happily ever after. I wonder if the production in question has a new scene in which Idomeneo sacrificed Mohammed et al. to placate Neptune. As I said, it’s not in the libretto, and it doesn’t actually make sense within the plot, but what the hey.
Today there’s some grumbling on the blogosphere about “political correctness” and how “artistic freedom” is being sacrificed to placate Muslims. To which I say, try performing this critter in the Bible Belt. As soon as the Holy Rollers hear about Jesus’s severed head the opera house is as good as vandalized, if not torched. And every Mozart CD in Alabama — all six of ’em — would be tossed on a bonfire, along with video cassettes and DVDs of “Amadeus.”
For that matter, Madonna recently risked arrest in Germany by performing some techno pop song while suspended crucifixion-style on a mirrored cross, wearing a crown of thorns. In The Netherlands, a priest called in a bomb threat in an attempt to stop the show, and some Russian Orthodox priests declared a “Holy Inquisition” against Madonna and other slanderers of holy imagery. Other Russian believers speared a poster of Madonna — sounds hostile to me.
Get this —
The German authorities will make up their own minds on the crucifixion matter this weekend and also on whether the giant screen, which flashes images ranging from the pope, Osama Bin Laden, US President George W. Bush, Chinese leader Mao Zedong to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, is in bad taste.
Somebody tell the righties that Madonna compared Bush to Bin Laden, Mao, and Mussolini while touring Europe, then watch Madonna get Dixie Chicked.
Certainly it’s wrong to stand in the way of artistic and political expression, but it doesn’t seem to bother the Right unless the ones standing in the way are Muslim.
But what I want to know is — if this Idomeneo production is supposed to be so creative, why bother making Neptune look like Neptune? I would have put Neptune in a red sequined gown and feather boa and have him sing his role while perched on top of a grand piano. Even better, make him a Judy Garland impersonator. That would have been creative.
Update: La Lulu goes on about how those awful Muslims hate everything without noticing that it wasn’t Muslims who cancelled the production, but the opera company, on advice from police who feared the production might incite violence. Also, the Times story linked above says that when the production was first performed, “it aroused controversy among Muslims and Christians.”