Tiki'd to Ride,
or, "Look on My Works, ye Mai Tai . . ."
Less Opera Per Capita?

Never Bet the Deutsche Oper Your Head

"Will you forget the head slicing thing?!?"
Philoctetes [Danny De Vito] in Disney's Hercules (1997).

From the Unintended Beneficial Consequences file:

Thanks to fear of terrorist violence, the citizens of Berlin have been saved from exposure to what sounds like deeply misguided production of Mozart's Idomeneo.  Reuters reports:

The Deutsche Oper in west Berlin announced on Monday it was replacing four performances of 'Idomeneo' scheduled for November with 'The Marriage of Figaro' and 'La Traviata.'

The decision was taken after Berlin security officials warned that putting on the opera as planned would present an 'incalculable security risk' for the establishment.

In the production, directed by Hans Neuenfels, King Idomeneo is shown staggering on stage next to the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and the Prophet Mohammad, which sit on chairs.

For the benefit of the morbidly curious, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung boldly provides a photo of the most controversial head in question, from the production's 2003 debut.  In a non-idiomatic Google-generated English translation, the accompanying article characterizes the Deutsche Oper as "overanxious."   

[UPDATE 1422 PDT: The photo referred to above has seemingly disappeared from the story.  Der Spiegel, however, has a similar but larger photo, with a guest appearance by the golden head of Buddha.]

While it is genuinely troubling that a musical or theatrical institution should face threats of violent repercussions over its artistic choices, Berliners should look on the bright side: this was probably a Very Bad Production of Mozart's opera seria.  The one scene that is described, the cause of the fuss, is enough to suggest that the director has hijacked (if you will) or misdirected Mozart's work for the benefit of his own "personal vision" or konzept.  This sort of thing happens all the time, particularly in Europe, and is a constant source of aggravation in some quarters

As any summary of the plot will tell you, the controversial scene poses at least two fundamental practical problems:

  • First, you simply cannot decapitate Poseidon, aka Neptune, in a production of Idomeneo given that the entire premise of the opera is that the title character, Idomeneo, king of Crete, has struck a terrible bargain just before the curtain rises with that very sea god in which the king has agreed to kill and sacrifice the first human being he meets upon returning home.  Of course, that first human being proves to be his own child.  Oh, the irony!  How cruel the gods!  But hardly a problem if the god in question has been decapitated, eh?  The bargain expires with its maker.  Even the Greeks presumably adhered to the rule that When Heads Are Off, All Bets Are Off.
  • Poseidon/Neptune's voice also assists in the essentially happy resolution of the plot in Act III.  Highly impractical, even for a god, if one's head is missing.
  • Second, and of particular relevance to the scene that has produced the kerfuffle in Berlin, the action of the opera is set upon the return of Idomeneo from fighting in the Trojan War.  Ergo, at least two victims of decapitation -- Jesus and Mohammad -- are yet to be born, which poses something of an obstacle to their being beheaded.

Whatever one thinks of Regietheater (or, as it is known to its detractors, "Eurotrash"), it is clear that the real problem with the Deutsche Oper production is that it simply makes no sense.  It transforms Mozart's opera seria into an opera dummia.  So, troubling as it is to think that "the terrorists have won," in this instance it is possible to think that the audience is a winner, too -- except perhaps for those who are stuck with yet another production of tired ol' Traviata.



jesus. that sounds like one of my nightmares. (yeah, for a while there i was having not just actors' nightmares but writer/producer's nightmares as well).

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