Nazi-themed Tannhauser Creates Scandal in Germany

Tuesday, May 07, 2013 - 02:42 PM

 Daniel Frank and Herren des Chores in Deutsche Oper am Rhein's 'Tannhauser' Daniel Frank and Herren des Chores in Deutsche Oper am Rhein's 'Tannhauser' (© Hans Jörg Michel)

See update below.

A modern production of Richard Wagner's opera Tannhauser is causing a stir in Germany because of Nazi-themed scenes showing people dying in gas chambers and members of a family having their heads shaved before being executed.

A spokeswoman for the Dusseldorf opera house said Tuesday that members of the audience "booed and were shocked" by Saturday's opening performance.

Monika Doll said the company of Deutsche Oper am Rhein is debating whether to tone down the provocative parts, added to the original by producer Burkhard Kosminski.

"Members of the audience booed and banged the doors when they left the opera house in protest before the end of the show," the head of the city's Jewish community told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Michael Szentei-Heise called the adaptation at the city's Deutsche Oper am Rhein "tasteless and not legitimate."

The director, Christoph Meyer, said in a statement that the opera company never wanted to hurt the feelings of the viewers. "This is not about mocking the victims, but mourning them," Meyer said.

At the opening of the Duesseldorf performance, performers could be seen inside glass chambers, falling to the floor as white fog flowed - an allusion to the mass killings of the Jews in the Nazis' death camps. After a half hour, the music stopped and a family stepped on stage. The parents and their children were having their hair shaved off and then they are shot dead - another reference to treatment of Jewish captives during the Holocaust.

The original Tannhauser opera is set in the Middle Ages and was first performed in Dresden in 1845. It is based on a traditional ballad about the bard Tannhauser and features a singing contest at the Wartburg Castle in south-central Germany.

Szentei-Heise, the Jewish community leader, objected to the inclusion of scenes reminiscent of the Holocaust, which occurred nearly a century after the opera was first performed.

"This opera has nothing to do with the Holocaust," Szentei-Heise said. "However, I think the audience has made this very clear to the opera and the producer."

Wagner, an ardent anti-Semite, remains a controversial figure in Germany and elsewhere nearly 130 years after his death. Adolf Hitler was an admirer, and playing Wagner's music is still considered a taboo in Israel.

UPDATE 5/8: The Deutsche Oper am Rhein has said it is cancelling the production after a backlash from audience members. The company's website includes a full statement in German.

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Comments [12]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner M

News today by the general manager of LA SCALA, Stephane Lissner that the world-famous opera house that was VERDI's outreach to the musical world is suffering government subsidy cutbacks and diminished attendance records will cut back on its scheduling, its season length and the number of productions. Worldwide the excuse by governments for cutting back on support of their cultural institutions, the opera, the symphony, the music conservatories, the museums, the universities and television and radio public broadcasting is 'we can't afford it." What we can't afford is the ignorance of our respective cultures that provide the incentive for achieving, that entertain and inform In the USA we are not even paying attention to our intrastructure with thousands of bridges and roadways and hospitals and schools in dangerous conditions, falling bridges with vehicles plunging into the waterways below. Terrorists terror but simple-minded, ethically challenged politicians potentially are even more destructive of an enlightened civilized society. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, opera composer and
director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute.

May. 27 2013 09:16 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Wagner was in every respect as much a revolutionary figure against monarchy, yet for a united Germany as was Verdi's compatriot Giuseppe Garibaldi for a united Italy. Wagner, as many leaders against an imperial status quo governing body, was imprisoned. His opera RIENZI, a man of the people, the historical last tribune of Rome was partially written, the overture especially exciting, while Wagner was in prison. The genius Mozart, like Wagner, depended on the financial support of royalty, yet pictured them for what they were, oppressive and the counts and Dons freakish womanizers.

May. 25 2013 11:10 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Bloggers you have every right to "stick to your guns." The two incredible mammoth size talents in opera are VERDI and WAGNER. They have been given short shift on Radioland including WKCR which has done better than one would need to expect given its potential rival. The average person might be mortified learning the names of many of their icons of art and politics and science and teaching that had major flaws in their psychological persona. The product of genius is what we should ourselves accommodate in adjusting our scheduling of time and our choices of seeing, reading or hearing. The 'taste test" should not require a Curriculum Vitae, a passport or a declaration from "on high," but rather our own internal gratification in the presence of masterworks.

May. 24 2013 09:33 AM
12-String Frank from Staten Island

In light of Richard Wagner's 200th birthday >>>> it's really shocking that in 2013 that some people would want to mount a Wagner production with the singers and extras wearing Nazi costumes. Totally wrong! Does anyone in the German arts community have any sense? Who in Germany provided the funds for this junk? Also, "Tannhauser" has nothing to do with Nazis or German officers. It's a medieval story. If you wanna be revisionist, just do it in modern dress. Germans today are very different from their yelling grandparents. Look at them in hard rock and metal bands. They like vikings now. Another thing -- are these singers so hard up for a job that they will accept doing Wagner in Nazi dress? Do they understand the implications of what they're doing? This is not like that scene in the 3rd Indiana Jones film (directed by a Jew). The best protest is for the audience to boo and walk out. These people took beautiful art from Wagner and turned it into crap.

May. 23 2013 03:59 PM

How sad that you should bring this latest monstrosity to everyone's attention as it is now sure to be the next sensationalistic nonsense imported by Peter Gelb's administration to the Met! Frankly, it seems to fit right in with most of the horrible garbage he is shoving our way lately. And, please, stop calling these bizarre interpretations of operas "updates" as that implies some sort of improvement. Call them what they are: dislocations, usually by fetid, desperate minds!

May. 18 2013 11:22 AM
chiOpera from New York

Opera is us, is our everyday life, is in the streets , is in the newspapers, is on the TV, is in our houses.
The stories are in front of us , day after day, and the only thing that we add at the Theaters are talented musicians, actors and singers playing the music written by certain Master composer.
Wagner was antisemitic but his music is sublime. Hitler loved Wagner but he was a mediocre man and artist. Germany suffers until now the shame that a group called Nazis brought over this country.
Half of my family are Jewish, and from that side of the family dozens of them were killed in Krakow.
My girlfriend is German and I loved her more than members from my own family. Some of my closest friends are Germans as well.
I was that evening in Dusseldorf while people behaving like animals arrived in a Theater with the only purpose of creating a scandal. Not with the intension of watching an Opera, neither with the intention of analyzing an interpretation. I paid my ticket the same way they did, and my knowledge in Classical Music is high as their knowledge for sure. Why to ruin a show?. Why to lie in Newspapers saying that after the first intermission half of the theater was empty?
Why to discriminate talent in such as way when the truth is that hundreds of people were clapping and many others screaming Bravo? Why to shot down this production ?
How nice it would be if the rest of the Opera world would be so brave like director Burkhard C. Kosminski in showing the atrocities we committed in the past in such intelligent way.
How nice it would be to watch Aida in Italy adapted to the days of Fascism and showing a soldier dying under the orders of Mussolini for his love to a Jewish girl.
How nice it would be a production of Fidelio based in Argentina during Videla’s dictatorship back in the 70’s, or to expose the repression that the gay community suffer in Cuba while listening to Turandot or a Romeo and Juliette between an Israeli and a Palestinian instead of Capuletti and Montecchi’s in Verona.
How do you expect this new, rich and fat, generation to understand the value of their freedom if we don’t show them how fragile it is , and how easy we can lose it.

May. 10 2013 11:25 PM
chiOpera from New York

I believe that Dusseldorf’s Tannhaeuser was just extraordinary.
It was more than a traditional or modern Opera production , it was like a movie.
A 4 hours Wagner’s Opera felt like 30 minutes.
The Regie was extraordinary, the costumes extremely real, the message 100% positive, the singing high quality and the music sublime.
I just don’t understand why is it so difficult to understand that Opera is changing and that we will need eventually to adapt to Hollywood and create more intensity and passion in order to help Opera to survive.
We can watch a 3 hours movie related to the second War World such as Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Inglorious Bastards and in all of these movies we can listen to classical music, but we complain when it comes to Opera.
We can tolerated movies such as Apocalypses Now and listen to Wagner while the American’s choppers are shooting Vietnamese farmers in cold blood, but we can not tolerated to listen to Wagner while Nazis are shooting people when it comes to Opera.
Why so much fear? Where is our freedom?
Artist were always the first one in history that were exposing throughout their arts the real face of the world where we live.
Mozart did it back in 1786 choosing the comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais in order to create The Marriage of Figaro and exposing throughout this piece the hypocrisy among the aristocrats.
Chopin wrote the Polonaises in order to inspire his people during the invasions to Poland.
Verdi wrote Nabucco in order to reflect the oppression that Italy was suffering, as well as Puccini did with Tosca.
If we keep looking at Opera as a fairy tale, in 50 years from now there will not be Opera anymore. An as an international artist I must tell you: it can not end with us, it should not end with us, and I will fight to the limits so Opera will survive.


May. 10 2013 11:24 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Politically, artistically, sense-arousingly this TANNHAUSER trips all over itself.
No one seems to comprehend, is it pro or anti NAZISM ? Is it pure narcisstic advancing of one's career?
The asylum inmates have taken over the asylum. Let's get back to the composers' intentions !!!

May. 10 2013 09:58 AM
SerbsWasAlsoDieingInGassChambers from Croatia

Wasnt it art? Like Pussy Riots? Like Marylin Manson? What was shocking there: rude rememberance on forgotten shame or propagation of Nacism(i believe,not this last)? Is it now suddenly puritan audience? Why only there,in this part of civilised world?

May. 09 2013 02:56 AM
David from Flushing

I can understand in these economic times why opera companies would opt for off the rack clothing instead of expensive costumes. Likewise, the use of projections instead of elaborate scenery can be excused when done out of necessity.

However, I do not see the point of moving operas out of their historical settings. Would we want a Turandot set in Buckingham Palace or an Aida in modern New York? These operas were intended to present exotic times and places. Other operas are perhaps less attached to time and place, but much in opera these days is change for the sake of change rather than improvement.

May. 08 2013 08:23 PM
SZG from Garden City

Whatever happened to good old common sense? I can't think of how it this staging might be appropriate anywhere, but without doubt is would surely be offensive in Germany! Shame on the company for doing it, kudos to the company for cancelling it.

May. 08 2013 04:23 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Another thrashing of a beautiful opera about redemption. The flowering of the Pope's staff and the music of the chorus is gorgeous. Sick and tired of these new productions that cheapen the stage presentations. Watched A Masked Ball this week. Another minimalist work with the chorus carrying chairs, etc. I watched it anyway because of the great music. Enough, basta, basta.

May. 08 2013 08:27 AM

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