September 28, 2006 (the date of publication in Russian)

Roman Bagdasarov


Scandal around Deutsche Opera's version of "Idomeneus" illustrates new European manner of introducing provocation into culture

One more scandal, described by mass media as "a conflict between culture and religion", broke out in October 2006 after the decision of Kirsten Harms, Director of Deutsche Opera, to cancel the premiere of the great Mozart's opera "Idomeneus, the King of Crete". In one of the scenes, the unfortunate king, promising to bring a sacrifice to Poseidon, is addressing the chopped-off heads of Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha.

By that time, nobody had coerced Mrs. Harms to cancel the performance, the theater having received no threats, although this interpretation of Idomeneus was known since 2003. Still, the news instantaneously spread around the globe. Now, Islamic fanatics have achieved a pretext to condemn "Mozart the qafir”, while the enlightened Europeans are supposed to feel proud of their freedom of expression. Propagandists of modern art enthusiastically confront "ignorant" critics, while advocates for the cause of faith propose to rewrite all the librettos containing indiscreet hints.

In case of Idomeneus, that is unnecessary. Actually, the list of characters of the original French libretto of the operas, authored by Christian Danchet, as well as its German versification by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Giambattista Varesco does not include the founders of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. The story of Idomeneus, the conqueror of Troy, does not include any decapitation either. The fact is that in the good old times of Mozart's creative work (peace to them!), the European art rested upon mastership and artistic talent, and not upon provocation; not upon frozen corpses and scrawl of mental patients but upon the delight of the human spirit and harmony of the Cosmos. Therefore, the scandal in the German opera house has nothing to do with Mozart, his everlasting musical heritage, as well as with classical European values.

The person to be blamed for the scandal is actually Hans Neuenfels, the author of a modernized version of the opera. It was hid idea to chop off the head of not only Poseidon, the god of Olympus, but also to the ascetic Gautama and the prophetic Mohammad. The new characters of the opera are dubbed “Gods" by Mr. Neuenfels, who imposed a non-appeal sentence on them: as they have not managed to bring peace to the whole world, the mankind does not need them at all. Listening to those aphorisms from a person, displaying himself as a Kulturträger, one could compare him with fanatics who burn down Mozart's head in response: the adversaries have found one another.

German XX-century philosopher Theodore Adorno, whose name is often associated with ascent of new cultural standards, viewed the classical theater as an instrument of the political powers, trying to use it as an instrument of ideology. The decorations have changed but the essence is the same. The permanent "purge" of the theater from religious and moral guidance has not liberated theatrical art but made it a hostage of financial donations, a mere bearing in a multi-blade machine of propaganda. Rejecting the cultural experience of centuries, as too costly and not guaranteeing immediate profit, the masters of "contemporary art" concentrated on provocation, as an only means. Thus, they immediately found themselves in the embrace of politicians, who had far exceeded everyone in the art of provocation.

The performance was cancelled on the eve of the earlier planned Moslem conference in Berlin which was to be focused on the future of Islam in the present and future European Union. The person who attracted attention to this coincidence was Germany's Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, the very person who bears supreme responsibility for ethnic and religious peace in the Federal Republic. Obviously, his taste in arts prevailed over his responsibility in his position.

Wolfgang Schäuble declared the decision of Mrs. Harms "insane". A whole array of politicians and cultural authorities followed, mounting more criticism on the Opera's director.

The passion of today's knights of artistic freedom reminds of anti-clerical campaigns of the XIX century. At that time, the Christian view was deliberately expulsed from arts. Today, the campaigners focused on Islam.

In this "last fight of the titans", the real value of classical culture was used as a small change. Both of the fighting sides ignored the fact that the original idea of the genius was arrogantly distorted by " Kulturträger" Neuenfels.

In mid-December, the scandal around Deutsche Opera continued: the heads of the three Prophets were stolen from the theater. Reportedly, Hans Neuenfels has ordered new copies of the doubtful props. They will be now better protected from "ignorant" thieves.

But who is going to protect Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

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