Berlin Opera House Re-Stages 'Idomeneo'

The Associated Press
Monday, December 18, 2006; 7:02 PM

BERLIN -- A production of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo," dropped for fear of a Muslim backlash over a scene with the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad, returned to the stage under heavy security Monday at Berlin's Deutsche Oper.

Audience members filed first past TV news crews outside and then through metal detectors. The precautions delayed the show by half an hour, as people filtered into the 1,863-seat hall, which was nearly sold out.

There was no trouble and some people wondered what the fuss was all about.

Christe Gruenheid said she had seen the production nine times and did not care about the controversy that erupted when the opera's November performances were canceled because of vague security warnings. The production was rescheduled after protests that the opera management had failed to defend artistic freedom.

"I'm only here because of the music," the 69-year-old Gruenheid said. "The whole commotion leaves me cold."

The scene that started all the trouble, with the severed heads of Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and the Greek god of the seas, Poseidon, was left in. It's the creation not of Mozart but of director Hans Neuenfels, who called it his personal protest against all organized religion.

The production is three years old, and when it premiered in 2003 the severed heads aroused little attention outside the opera world.

But that was before a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Muhammad that led to Muslim riots worldwide _ and before comments by German-born Pope Benedict XVI further inflamed sensibilities in the Islamic world, just as the Neuenfels production was to be revived.

Such fears initially led the opera house to cancel the revival. Opera manager Kirsten Harms said in September that her decision was prompted by the advice of Berlin police and she invoked the "consequences of the conflict over the (Muhammad) caricatures."

The decision was roundly condemned, with Chancellor Angela Merkel warning against "self-censorship out of fear," and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble _ the country's top security official _ describing it as "crazy."

Police said they were trying to keep the security as unobtrusive as possible, though it was hard to miss the metal detectors and X-ray bag check.

"We are ready for any eventuality," police spokesman Berhard Schodrowski said.

Schaeuble attended after inviting Muslim leaders to join him. But Ali Kizilkaya, head of Germany's Islamic Council, said he wouldn't be one of them.

Instead of an opera where Muhammad and Christ are beheaded, "I ... would hope for a debate in society about whether everything should be allowed for the sake of art," he said.

Another German Muslim leader, Aiman Mazyek, also said he would not attend, saying the purpose of opera was "not to mix religion, art and politics."

Neuenfels also said he wouldn't be attending, having harshly criticized the present Deutsche Oper management's revivals of his productions. He has insisted his staging not be altered, saying the scene where the king of Crete presents the severed heads represents his protest against "any form of organized religion or its founders."

The heads at Monday's performance were new; opera officials said they couldn't find the old ones and had to have them replaced.


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