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

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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.

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  1. i agree with you here

  2. I couldn’t find online Ferlinghetti’s poem about visiting a Woolworth’s in postwar Berlin and discovering the German invention later sold here as Correct-a-Type, precursor to Wite-Out, a slip of paper covered on one side by sticky white powder that the erring typist would slip in to retype the mistake in white before inserting the proper character in black. Alluding to Nuremberg, Ferlinghetti marveled that “two wrongs make a right in Berlin.”

    No longer.

  3. Is the (PBUH) addition sarcasm?

    Because that’s awesome if it is.

    No really, I always thought that the (PBUH) was stupid.

  4. Arguing the artistic merit of this opera completely misses the point, no? Putting religious anachronisms into theatre is apparently soooo 1988….so what? The issue is that yet again the rest of the world is going to bend over backwards because the Religion of Peace is threatening to commit some violence. When does it stop?
    The heads of Jesus and Buddha also make an appearence. Anybody think they’re cancelling the opera over that? Anybody think the appeasers would express outrage if Christian groups demanded the opera be stopped?
    But of course, the vast majority of Muslims who allegedly don’t support this sort of behavior are going to be speaking out any minute now. I’m sure of it.

  5. The only religious figure who belongs here is Poseiden/Neptune, and he hasn’t registered any dissatisfaction.

    Sir, i protest!

  6. Arguing the artistic merit of this opera completely misses the point, no?
    Not if your point is to obscure the fact that Muslims are violent and nutty.

    Putting religious anachronisms into theatre is apparently soooo 1988….so what?
    So maybe the play should’ve been cancelled because it’s bad – then we can conclude that the intimidation was unimportant, or even beneficial.

    When does it stop?
    When people stand up to it, at best, or perhaps never. Check out ‘history’: violence works.

  7. Mr. F. Le Mur =
    Not if your point is to obscure the fact that Muslims are violent and nutty.

    Mr Le Mur,

    Are you the same F. Le Mur – Fernandinande LeMur – long affiliated with the church of the subgenius?

    JG

  8. What Dave & F Lemur said.

    Personally, I think artists, musicians and businesses in every country in the entire west ern world should stage a contest to find who can produce the most ridiculous mockery of religious figures.

    The only requirement is that a major figure from each of the big 3 (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) must be represented. Feelfree to add Hindu is you think they might feel left out.

    A world-wide free speech juggernaught might be just what these intolerant, violent muslim jackasses need.

    Then again…it might just be funny.

  9. Personally, I think artists, musicians and businesses in every country in the entire west ern world should stage a contest to find who can produce the most ridiculous mockery of religious figures.

    kind of in line from my question above =

    … i think that’s not a terrible description of what the “Church of the Subgenius” really is/was.

    Not a mockery of ‘figures’, per se, but one of the most insightful re-enactments of a religious meme, becoming its own church of irreverance.

    One of my favorite pieces of writing, ever =

    http://www.subgenius.com/pam1/pamphlet_p1.html

    JG

  10. What Dave & F Lemur and madpad and others said. Tim, if we wanted a review of the opera, which you havent even seen by the way, we would have subscribed to some litterary artsy publication and would have been visiting completely different discussion forums. Since we want to talk about the assault on free speech, by what used to be political correctness and has now turned into fear of repraisals over offended sensitivities we point our browsers to Reason/H&R.

  11. I have to support Tim here. I love opera, but I dropped my season tickets to the Lyric here in Austin because of one too many stagings of classic works with some completely unnecessary oddity, supposed to update the things. We did “Tannhauser” set after the Apocalypse with a collapsed freeway as the Venusburg. There are plenty of works that are quite genuinely shocking without needing some recently-minted MFA’s “I know!! Why don’t we . . . ?!”

  12. Jesus Fucking Christ. Doesn’t one of you people get upset whenever I do the “libertoid boilerplate”? Now you see what happens when I don’t do it.

    Libertoid boilerplate: Of course they have the right to stage the show any way they blah blah blah…freedom of speech is sacrosanct yadda yadda yadda…group of violent thugs intimidating European artists yakity yak…great religion of “peace” humminuh humminuh…

  13. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I always enjoy a good wacky anachronism.

  14. Tim, didn’t you get the memo? If you fail to shit on Islam at every opportunity, you’re a snivelling submissive coward “dhimmi”.

  15. Jesus Fucking Christ. Doesn’t one of you people get upset whenever I do the “libertoid boilerplate”? Now you see what happens when I don’t do it.

    Wow take her easy there, Tim. As a paid contributor to reason its up to you to give our “libertoid boilerplate” new angles and make it intersting. And its for us to criticize your contributions. So when you burry the more important point in the what many, my self included, see as pointless reviews of current and past opera trends one could easily assume that “your point is to obscure the fact that Muslims are violent and nutty.”

  16. Arguing the artistic merit of this opera completely misses the point, no? Putting religious anachronisms into theatre is apparently soooo 1988….so what? The issue is that yet again the rest of the world is going to bend over backwards because the Religion of Peace is threatening to commit some violence. When does it stop?

    Has anyone wondered what would have happened to Mozart if he had included Jesus’ severed head in the original — in Enlightenment Europe?

  17. Tim: Yeah, I do expect “libertoid boilerplate” on this sort of issue. Nobody is more down than I am on the horrors that anti-Muslim hysteria has generated as we wage the Great Global War of Civilizations. We are endorsing torture, abdicating the rule of law, and have generated even more terrorists by invading Iraq with no clue what to do after we got Saddam off his throne. The fuck-ups and ongoing travesties of justice are overwhelming.

  18. Jesus Fucking Christ. Doesn’t one of you people get upset whenever I do the “libertoid boilerplate”? Now you see what happens when I don’t do it.

    har 🙂

    I think reason is my favorite journal for many reasons, but one small one is that the contributors dont mind testily slagging off their flippant readers from time to time.

    I’ve always secretly wanted the Economist or the Atlantic or someone to publish a letter critical of a piece, and have something like:

    Christopher Hitchens Replies: Learn to read, jackass.

    JG

  19. Well, seems the libertarian boilerplate may be irrelevant to the debate anyway, because Tim, no one’s mistaking your criticism of the play for saying the play should be forcibly shut down. Unless I’m missing something, though, you are saying your outrage over the capitulation to Islamic intimidation is almost entirely mitigated because you think the play is stupid. I think it’s fair game to say we oughtta be pissed however stupid the play is.

    That said, I think it’s just too damn easy to criticize others for not taking risks that the criticizer doesn’t have to take. Sure, I’d like others to not be cowtowed by this bullshit, too, but I’m not gonna act self-righteous about how others should take risks that I don’t have to.

  20. We need more art that shocks. That enrages. That gets knickers in a twist.

  21. We need more art that shocks. That enrages. That gets knickers in a twist.

    Well, there’s never been any shortage of art that does exactly that. Really, the only interesting part of the whole story is that, at this late date, the art form that’s doing the shocking, enraging and knicker twisting is opera.

    Opera?

    Mozart’s ghost must be laughing his ass off. Take that, Johnny Rotten and Eminem!

  22. We need more art that shocks. That enrages. That gets knickers in a twist.

    Can we get more art that’s any good? I’m sure some of it will be quite shocking…

  23. This is the kind of reaction I want.

    I want to write a poem or a play that has this effect.

    I want to write a “South Park” episode.

  24. Guys, this is the Deutsche Opera in Berlin. A major international venue whose schedule of artists, sets, costumes et al is set months, if not years, in advance. This is not the last-minute cancellation of a band at your local pub. This is a disaster for the arts.

    “High-class” venues like opera houses or theaters are, in my experience, waaaay easier to get into than other public spaces. My handbag is pawed if I want to enter the county fair, a baseball game, or a club. I sail into the opera or ballet unchallenged, however. And there are no cops hanging around the entrances or trooping down onto the stage at intermission, either.

    I think it’s awful that a production at a major opera house would be cancelled for such a reason. At the same time, I now worry about the security at historic buildings. I’m very saddened by this. And I don’t see any easy answer.

  25. “cretanous”

    Is that a geologic time frame?

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