We often write about religion and we often write about opera, but seldom do we end up combining them. But, the Berlin Opera has opened the door for us, so here we are.
In a statement Monday, the Berlin Opera has decided to cancel a production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" because the production, by Hans Neuenfels, includes a scene in which the severed head of Mohammed is displayed. Although the production is three years old, the scene is, predictably, controversial. On the one hand, there are those who don't wish to offend the Moslems. On the other hand, there are those who don't wish to offend "Art" and pale at the mention of any possible censorship.
Why are we even bothering with this story? Two reasons. First, this is entirely the invention of the producer, Mr. Neuenfels. Mozart had nothing to do with it. It's popular these days in opera to be so bored with the composer's vision that it must be changed and updated to be more "relevant." (See previous posts on the Minnesota Opera.) In the news story, Kenan Kolat, a leader of the Turkish community in Germany is said to have "encouraged Muslims living in the West to accept certain elements of the traditions here, noting an opera production is not equivalent to a political point of view." That's either naive or disingenuous. What play or film or opera production these days isn't fraught with a political point of view?
The second, more important point, is that in addition to the head of Mohammed, the heads of the Greek god Poseidon, Buddha, and Jesus Christ are presented. Something for everyone. So where is the hue and cry about not wanting to offend Buddhists (Hollywood where are you?) or Christians, or, for that matter, pagans. Why is it that the Berlin Opera is only afraid of offending Moslems? Or is it that they are merely afraid? Chances are the Buddhists and Christians aren't going to go on a rampage blowing up planes or trains in reaction to this opera. If the Moslems weren't so free with displaying their emotions, the production would go on in peace and audiences would just accept that it's high art to show disrespect for people's religious beliefs.
I don't recommend that anyone take violent action against those that offend them. However, perhaps Christians and Buddhists should take a page from the Moslems and speak up when their religious beliefs are mocked. At least we might not have to endure bad art posing as freedom of speech.