Rondo alla Turca: Sour krauts call opera copout a cretanous move


M sends in this story with the promise that the headline—Berlin opera drops Mohamed's severed head—"is enough to start a war." I've been following the Berlin opera house's cancellation of its upcoming performance of Mozart's Idomeneo in response to Islamic sensitivities. The decision to cancel a performance that would have featured a beheaded Prophet (PBUH) came before anybody complained or threatened to bomb the place. German politicians are fuming, and the usual gang of anti-idiotarians are hitting high Cs about dhimmitude and sharia in Eurabia. I'm offended too, but not in any way I can get passionate about. From The Scotsman (which, after The Hindu, is the second best name for a newspaper) comes this description of the offense:

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.

It's not that I think the performance should have been nixed. I just can't bring myself to care about this particular performance. For the record, Idomeneo is an opera set in classical antiquity, detailing efforts by the king of Crete to get out of a promise he made to Neptune, the god of the sea. That is, it's set during the good old Jahiliyyah when Jesus wasn't even an itch in the Holy Spirit's feathers, Muhammad's great-grandfather wasn't even born, and probably Prince Siddhartha was still screwing his way across India. It's a wacky postmodern staging that's trying to freak out the squares with the post-structural zaniness of it all. The only religious figure who belongs here is Poseiden/Neptune, and he hasn't registered any dissatisfaction.

You young folks can trust me on this: There really was a time when putting crazy anachronisms and tendentious juxtapositions into a performance of some classical work was really rad and out there and groovy. But 1988 is over. Fuddyduddy critic Roger Kimball, quoted in a fine Jim Henley article, dismissed this kind of thing as "some PoMo rendition that portrays Hamlet in drag or sets A Midsummer Night's Dream in a concentration camp." The squares never did like performances like this; but the problem isn't the offense to high art any more than the offense to Muslims. It's that it's all just so over. If you want to offend Muslims, do a straightup staging of this wonderful piece of Orientalism, which is a better opera anyway.