Opera show cancelled over fear of violent reactions from radical Muslims
After state security officials warned it could provoke dangerous reactions, a leading opera house in Berlin called off a production of Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’ that features the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad
Hans Neuenfels’ production of Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’ had its premiere in 2003. Already then it drew criticism over a new scene he had added in which King Idomeneo presents the severed heads not only of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, but also of Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha. The opera, telling the story of the Cretan king Idomeneo, was first performed in 1782.
In mid-August, one of Berlin’s leading opera houses, Deutsche Oper, was preparing to run four performances of the 224-year-old opera in November 2006, when opera house director Kirsten Harms received a warning from Berlin Police of a socalled “incalculable security risk” because of the Muhammad depiction.
The director’s decision to cancel the show for this reason was announced on 25 September 2006. It instigated a furious debate in Germany over Islam, freedom of speech and the role of art.
“A new threat to free artistic expression”
Deputy parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Thierse said it “highlighted a new threat to free artistic expression in Germany.”
Germany’s Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said: “We tend to become crazy if we start to forbid Mozart operas being played. We will not accept it.”
Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, said that he considers “the decision of the director to be wrong.”
Berlin Police said their concern was prompted by an anonymous phone call in June 2006 but they had no evidence of a specific threat.
Fears of Islamic radicalisation have increased in Germany in recent months, aggravated by a failed bomb attack on two German trains in July 2006, as well as the new angry statements from Muslim clerics declaring ‘holy war’ in reaction to a remark made about Islam in a speech by Pope Benedict XVI. The opera house director most likely also remembers the violent reactions to the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad which were published in a Danish newspaper in October 2005.
According to Reuters, two Lebanese students have been arrested for the train terror plot, and German security officials believe they likely had help from a radical Islamic network.
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Associated Press / Chicago Sun-Times – 27 September 2006:
‘German opera house axes show over Islamic fears’
Reuters / Washington Post – 26 September 2006:
‘Politicians slam Berlin opera for canceling Idomeneo’
Official website of the opera house Deutsche Oper Berlin: