Police guard required at Berlin opera house
18 December 2006, Berlin (dpa) - Ringed by riot police, one of Berlin's three opera houses Monday staged a controversial production of Mozart's opera Idomeneo, three months after fears of Islamist violence had led to its sudden cancellation.
18 December 2006
Berlin (dpa) - Ringed by riot police, one of Berlin's three opera houses Monday staged a controversial production of Mozart's opera Idomeneo, three months after fears of Islamist violence had led to its sudden cancellation.
Both Christian and Muslim leaders said a closing scene of the musical show, depicting the opera hero mocking severed, papier-mache heads of Jesus Christ, Buddha, the Prophet Mohammed and Poseidon, was offensive.
A small group of Christians held a vigil of protest in the chill night outside the theatre, but Muslim protesters were not seen.
Riot police ringed the Deutsche Oper theatre hours in advance of the performance, sniffer dogs searched the building for bombs and the formally attired audience had to pass through metal-detector gates to show they were not carrying knives or guns.
No one had threatened violence, but the opera house chief said in September she was concerned there might be an attack on her staff, and cancelled the opera. The production was reinstated after a public outcry against self-censorship led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel was not present Monday, but Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was among the VIP guests.
An opera house spokesman said the performance was being staged exactly as devised by director Hans Neuenfels in 2003, when the show went ahead without controversy. The beheading scene was devised by Neuenfels and is not part of Mozart's script.
A second and final performance is set for December 29. Members of the audience said they wanted to stand up for freedom of speech.
A musician in the theatre orchestra said as he arrived for work that he had never believed there was a genuine threat of violence.
"But the fuss has provided publicity for our theatre," he said. "Though I don't know if it's good publicity."
The 30-second scene, in which the opera hero puts the severed heads on chairs and laughs, was criticised Monday by Hans Joachim Meyer, who heads Germany's national Catholic lay body, and Lutheran Bishop Baerbel Wartenberg-Potter.
Schaeuble had offered free tickets to all 15 members of a government panel representing people of Muslim heritage, both secular and religious, but only nine accepted, the Interior Ministry said.
Leaders of the Council of Islam and German Council of Muslims said the opera house was within its rights but declined the invitation.
Meyer, president of the national committee of Catholics, said he entirely sympathized with the Muslim leaders.
"In the eyes of devout people, to demonstratively support an anti- religious spectacle is not proof of tolerance, but an expression of a lack of self-esteem," said Meyer, adding that he wondered how Christians could watch such an opera without thinking likewise.
Wartenberg-Potter, Lutheran bishop of the northern city of Luebeck, said the scene trampled on people's precious values. She said that this was not enlightened, but primarily provocative.
"It expresses a denigration of religious values that is very widespread in our society," she said on a national radio show.
Seyran Ates, a lawyer who represents Turkish wives in divorces, and Necla Kelek, an author critical of Turkish customs, slammed religious leaders for not attending the opera.
The two women are among Germany's best-known Turkish secular figures and are perceived as hostile to traditional Islam.
Ates said on the radio channel Deutschlandradio Kultur that the show ought to have initiated discussion on making religion more up to date. On the same channel, Kelek criticized Islam, saying it made no allowance for "religion in the form of art."
In a bizarre twist, the papier-mache heads mysteriously disappeared from the theatre props department about 10 days before the show was set to be performed and new bloodied heads had to be hastily moulded.
Subject: German news