The Deutsche Oper in west Berlin announced on Monday that it would be cancelling four performances of Mozart’s Opera Idomeneo.
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.
The German government, thankfully, condemned the decision.
German politicians denounced the opera house’s move, deputy parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Thierse saying it highlighted a new threat to free artistic expression in Germany.
“Has it come so far that we must limit artistic expression?” he told Reuters. “What will be next?”
So what does the director of the Opera have to say?
The director of the Deutsche Oper, Kirsten Harms, defended her decision at a news conference on Tuesday. She said Ehrhart Koerting, Berlin’s top police official, had phoned her in mid-August and warned her of dire consequences if the opera house proceeded with its plan to show “Idomeneo.”
“If I had paid no attention and something had happened, everyone would rightly say that I had ignored the warnings,” Harms said.
In my humble opinion, this is disgraceful. While I’m not alone in being skepticle of any censorship, this kind of censorship presents new challenges for the arts. In a country where the president keeps telling us that the terrorists will strike again – in a world where people of all faiths use violence as their primary means of solving conflicts – this form of censorship by fear is a great risk to free speech and the nature of art.
For shame, Kirsten Harms, for shame.