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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I Choose Mozart

(Welcome Peaktalk readers! Whaddayaknow, my first quote. And warm greetings to Immodest Proposals readers too!)

As if the turpid stream of nonsensical outrage regarding the Pope's citation, then apology about Islam last week, were not enough, fasten your seat belts, people.

We've hit another bump in the cultural road less travelled!

Today, the Berlin operahouse, the Deutsche Oper, has announced that they will be cancelling their showing of Mozart's Idomeneo, due to concerns about its final scene possibly upsetting Muslim sensibilities.



Not that "high" European art, as it is sometimes referred to in other countries, is popular in the Middle East, or even in EU-aspirant, Turkey.

In fact, unlike the Far East of China, Japan, and South Korea, where their citizens embrace our cultural expressions to such an extent they are almost the majority in symphonic orchestras, the entire Muslim umma has virtually no formal, or consistent relationship to the world of Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Tintoretto, or Diaghalev.

This is, of course, unless they emigrate and therefore begin to assimilate into their new lands in Europe, whereby Muslim children begin to be educated about our art, our history, our shared cultural expectations, so that hopefully, it becomes their art, their history, their shared cultural expectations, too.

You must be wondering to yourself, what exactly is the beef this time, that the Deutsche Oper were told their showing of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 200 year old opera, would cause such consternation, NOW?

It is because of this:
"The controversial scenes in the opera are a change from the original libretto, in which a Greek king is forced to execute his son because of a vow made to the sea god, Neptune, but is reprieved at the final moment by the god's clemency.

In the planned Deutsche Oper production, Idomeneo appears to escape his vow and the dominance of religion by appearing onstage with the severed heads of Jesus, Muhammad, Neptune and the Buddha on chairs."

First, allow me to admit to you that I've never seen Idomeneo, even on DVD.

But, as an one-time Florida Grand Opera season ticket holder, I am an opera aficionada.

My blogfather, JSU, and his An Unamplified Voice opera blog listed first in the blogroll to the right, are further testaments to my love, if perhaps not obsession with, opera. My parents, in their heydey, were simply gaga about it.

So this topic hits very close to my heart, and is not just a reactive clash of civilisations tirade.

Many years ago, as a little girl, I went to Brazilian director of opera, Gerald Thomas' production of The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner, where the characters were dressed up as Nazis.

This was considered daring, prescient even (the film Richard III was going to do something quite similar, in the near future) albeit in the traditionally artistic leeway we give our artists, few people gave vent to outrage that a well-loved opera, was being changed this way.

It was, after all, an artistic vision, and like anything concerning that hallowed field of human expression, those that oppose artistic visions are often seen as regressive, not to say, highly unsophisticated.

You either like it, or lump it, but you do not change it.

This Mohammed-Idomeneo controversy is even more telling, considering that the production had intended for the severed heads of Buddha, Neptune, Mohammed AND Jesus to be portrayed.

(I think the Berliners did an awful injustice by not including L. Ron Hubbard if you ask me, but who am I to suggest improvements to the libretto?)

Now, you may think, as I do, that this messy bloody portrayal of severed heads is a visual too far.

Just thinking of it, reminds one all too vividly of the Nicholas Berg decapitation; which those of us who once have seen it, will haunt our nightmares forever.

But it is artistic license, and as such, we in the West are used to it.

Furthermore, we are used to having the image of the Christ used in every way. In fairness, his ubiquitous likeness is what helped to spread Christianity to begin with, and it is manifest all over its most Christian lands.

But blasphemy it is, nonetheless, when you use Jesus Christ's image in a licentious, derogatory, or demeaning manner.

But you don't see more than a whelp of distaste come from Christians, whenever Kanye West decides to crown himself with thorns, in a cover of Rolling Stone magazine, do you?

Though the protests which swilled around The Last Testament of Christ were vociferous back in the day, Martin Scorcese didn't even think of cancelling his film, in polite haste at the opprobrium, did he?

And all too soon, Madonna's happy little frolick on NBC will be broadcast, where it will show her being nailed to a cross, Jesus-style.

Reactions from Christians will no doubt be widespread and swift. But having a fait accompli on our hands, we will vote with our clickers and tune out...

...not threaten the lives of these addlepated producers and middle-aged teen impersonator.

(Just once I would like to see Madonna traipse around on stage singing about how she's the concubine of the Prophet Mohammed, and look at my burkha-bustier. But will she? Of course not. Her reward would not be cancellation, but decapitation and she knows it)

There is a reason Idomeneo was cancelled, and that reason hasn't to do with being concerned about upsetting:

- The Buddhists

- The Gods of Mount Olympus

(And certainly not) - The Christians

We Jesus Freaks, as Ted Turner so loving calls us, are especially used to being insulted.

No, the only reason this opera was cancelled was because German security services were concerned that they could not protect the lives of the audience and Opera officials, should they stage such a production.

Because the Muslims would, well we don't know what they would do exactly, but if past reactions like the killing of Theo Van Gogh are anything to go by, their extremist elements would not leave us in any doubt as to their displeasure.

My friends, Europe is under seige.

And here, you won't hear me say that it is because of Islam. It is not that.

It is under siege because the Old World, previously so sure of itself, so full of artistic buoyancy that nothing was considered too outré, too intellectually stimulating, is now as awkward, as diffident, as an 8-year old arriving for its first day at school.

If it were just a case of nerves, that would be one thing.

But when lack of chutzpah devolves into cowardice, that's when we all of us in the West, have a problem. A big problem.

Because multi-culturalism, with its warm embrace of understanding of all cultures, races, and creeds, is the status quo in Christian Europe, we are loathe to show ourselves in any light, which would shatter this mirror of humanity.

This is no bad thing, mind you, within limits.

But multi-culturalism, and its derivative impulses, is canabalising Europe.

It's allowing the old continent, and its many descendants, to eat itself from within, so that nothing but a skeleton will remain of its former vigourous ideals.

Stand up for yourself, Europe, my old stomping grounds, my old home!

Use the same arguments you use about Christianity, about freedom of expression, about artistic werewithal, about Islam!

This isn't about purposely insulting people, but knowing that your ideals either mean something to you, or they just plain don't.

And if they don't, at least be honest, and do not come running yet again, to the children you pupped around this world, when you are in need of help.

Because the United States might be experiencing the same clash of wills of these disparate civilisations, but Americans have a much deeper understanding of what brawn it takes to defeat your foes.

It is not with honeyed words, with placations, with compromising your ideals yet again, that you will remain free.

It is with making sure you know who you are, and standing up for that with all your might.

If you stand up for one, then stand up for all. If you stand up for none, then don't make an exception for just the one. That is intellectually dishonest, and you know it.

Everything you say you hold dear, is incrementally being debased not by others, but by yourselves.

Watching you debase these ideals, is like watching a danse macabre from afar -- a bunch of old bones rattling around, pretending they are having the time of their lives, when in fact, their death rattle is over.

Because the subtext of what you have done in this particular situation is that you have chosen fear over art, silence over expression, cowardice over originality.

And I'm terribly sorry, Europe, but I choose Mozart.

UPDATE: There has been a sign of life from the old corpse about this affair, thankfully. Not only have many in the intelligentsia denounced the impulse to cancel the opera, now Chancellor Angela Merkel said unequivocally that, "Self-censorship out of fear is not tolerable". Brava! Maybe it's just a sentence, but there's a gushing well of courage in dem dar hills. And it's spewing forth as we speak.

FRIDAY 29 SEPTEMBER UPDATE: Hold the burka-bustiers! We might have a change of heart from the brow-beaten Deustche Oper. They say they might stage Idomeneo, if "sure of safety". That's as courageous as we are going to get, in this day and age, in Europe. We'll take it.

3 Comments:

  • It seems that the cancellation will be revoked and this opera will be shown after all. What a clever publicity stunt the opera house made by first announcing the cancellation. Usually hardly anybody would be interested in that opera, but now it is the talk of the town.

    I think I am in a very small minority in Germany who approved of the cancellation. That opera is an insult to other religions (since it shows the severed heads of Jesus and Buddha as well) and to Mozart, the composer, himself.

    What benefit would we get if we had this opera? It seems the only reason to defend this stupid opera is to avoid giving the impression of appeasement to the Islamofascists. That's not enough for me. I think this opera would only strengthen Islamofasicsm since it would help their propaganda. To win the war on terrorism, we need to have moderate Muslims on our side, so that they don't support the terrorists, but give us information about them. And we want the moderate Muslims to win over their autocratic governments and fundamentalist groups in the Arab world. This opera, however, alienates the moderate Muslims and helps the fundamentalists.

    Greetings from Berlin,
    My blog: The Atlantic Review, A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni

    P.S.: What do you think would happen if this opera (which shows the severed heads of Mohammed and Jesus) would be showed in the American bible belt?

    By Anonymous Josh in Berlin, at Thu Sep 28, 01:35:00 pm GMT-4  

  • It seems that the cancellation will be revoked and this opera will be shown after all.

    Good.

    What a clever publicity stunt the opera house made by first announcing the cancellation. Usually hardly anybody would be interested in that opera, but now it is the talk of the town.

    Idomeneo has been shown several times since 2003, when it was first staged in the Berlin Operahouse, which obviously, was post-911.

    You can bet that the reason they cancelled it this time, due to fears relating to the outcry over the Pope's words, IN THE PAST WEEK.

    This is no publicity stunt.

    They had something planned, as per usual, and when they saw an Italian nun killed, churches torched, due to a German man's citation (cruelly, wilfully misinterpreted), die Deutsche Oper backed off.

    For anyone not to see that timing was crucial to this event, is to be very partisan indeed.

    I think I am in a very small minority in Germany who approved of the cancellation. That opera is an insult to other religions (since it shows the severed heads of Jesus and Buddha as well) and to Mozart, the composer, himself.

    On paper, I agree with you because I'm conservative about religiosity.

    I would much rather not have Jesus portrayed as a crack fiend on Broadway, as he has been.

    And my squeamishness about my religion, spills over to respect and will to decency, about others, irrespective of what religion they are.

    (Now, they have to be an established religion like Buddhism, Zoroastrism, etc. Scientology, voodoo, etc. provoke howls of laughter from me)

    What benefit would we get if we had this opera?

    Why don't you let the artist decide what benefit something has?

    In this case, since poor old Wolfie is dead, Deutsche Oper director, Hans Neuenfels.

    He's a provocateur, no doubt about it.

    But like my earlier citing of Gerald Thomas' opera where he turned the Flying Dutchman into a Nazi parallel, that's his call.

    (BTW, I liked his interpretation, despite my German mother's howls of disapproval at the Nazi costumery)

    It seems the only reason to defend this stupid opera is to avoid giving the impression of appeasement to the Islamofascists. That's not enough for me. I think this opera would only strengthen Islamofasicsm since it would help their propaganda. To win the war on terrorism, we need to have moderate Muslims on our side,

    Everyone talks about moderate Muslims.

    But moderate Muslims don't talk.

    so that they don't support the terrorists, but give us information about them. And we want the moderate Muslims to win over their autocratic governments and fundamentalist groups in the Arab world. This opera, however, alienates the moderate Muslims and helps the fundamentalists.

    There are fundamentalist Christians too, but they don't react this way.

    This entire argument of always having to appease one sensibility only, is a smokescreen.

    No matter WHAT we do, they will react.

    Moderate Muslims in the WEST won't help that.

    There have to be moderate Muslims telling protesters not to burn, kill and maim those who hold differing points of view -- OVER THERE.

    We can sort our own problems on the continent, and in Britain.

    But we can't do a thing about reactions abroad, without the help of others.

    Greetings from Berlin,
    My blog: The Atlantic Review, A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni


    Thanks for the link.

    P.S.: What do you think would happen if this opera (which shows the severed heads of Mohammed and Jesus) would be showed in the American bible belt?

    The fetishing of the Bible Belt by certain people is bizarre.

    When have you ever heard of violent riots regarding the depiction of Jesus (say, the Last Testament of Christ by Scorcese, as mentioned) even in brutally disgusting ways?

    If you hear of any, let us know.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Sep 28, 02:25:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Why did my commentary, posted at 2:30 PM EDT, take almost 8 hours to show!?

    (Albeit, when you actually went to reply in the other page, it showed there, just not in the "1 comment" link in the frontispiece)

    Is anyone else noticing this time discrepancy in comments of their blogs?

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sep 29, 01:28:00 am GMT-4  

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