Jeannik Littlefield

The Emperor's Clothes


When I heard that a Mozart opera had been removed from the 2006-2007 Deutsche Oper Berlin season because it might upset Muslims, I immediately thought the offending opera was Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). My initial feeling was that it was a misunderstanding, as Abduction does involve conflict between Christians and Muslims. Of the two main Islamic characters, Osmin is stereotypically bumbling, violent, and chauvinistic. However, the other, Pasha Selim, is the most noble one in the opera, and in the end he is merciful.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the opera in question was Idomeneo: Re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante, set in the time of the Trojan War. Apparently Hans Neuenfels' production from 2003 features the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed.


There were four performances of Idomeneo scheduled for November 2006, and these have been replaced by Le Nozze di Figaro and La Traviata. From the description and photographs, this Idomeneo production looks fairly typical for German opera fare. Die Entführung aus dem Serail entirely on multi-colored sofas, Semiramide in a gym, or Die Walküre with air traffic controller torches, these are par for the course. There is much to be offended by, not so much because of cultural insensitivity, but lack of respect for the audience's intelligence.

The cancellation must be a disappointment for the cast and crew:

Conductor   Lothar Zagrosek
Producer   Hans Neuenfels
Sets, Costumes   Reinhard von der Thannen
Chorus master   Ulrich Paetzholdt
Idomeneo    Roberto Saccà
Idamante    Marina Prudenskaya
Ilia    Jacquelyn Wagner
Elettra    Iano Tamar
Arbace    Burkhard Ulrich / Paul Kaufmann
Die Stimme    Harold Wilson

Deutsche Oper Berlin Statement | NPR Segment | Deutsche Welle Article