German Theater Groups Criticize Cancellation of Nazi-Themed Tannhauser

Friday, May 17, 2013 - 01:00 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)

The Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Dusseldorf has faced mounting scrutiny for canceling a controversial Nazi-themed production of Wagner's Tannhäuser last week.

Klaus Zehelein, the president of the German Stage Association, a trade group for German theaters, condemned the opera house, calling the cancellation “excessive.” He told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur that while he hasn’t seen the work himself, “Art must be able to maintain a certain social pressure level, even if something has failed.”

Based in Cologne, the German Stage Association (Deutschen Bühnenverein) represents some 430 opera companies, theaters and ballet companies in Germany.

On Thursday, Klaus Staeck, the President of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, called for the production, by Burkhard Kosminski, to be reinstated in its original form, complete with the reported scenes of gas chambers and the title character executing Jewish prisoners.

“No aesthetic assessment or substantive debate justifies discontinuing a production after only one idea," Staeck wrote in an open letter to Christoph Meyer, Dusseldorf’s director, and Kosminski.

“Art – regardless of quality – is not a fair-weather affair," Staeck’s letter added. "Whether it is right or wrong, has failed or is brilliant, it needs to be discussed." He added that if a staging has "oppressive imagery" or endangers the health of audience members, it can come with a warning.

The Dusseldorf company said last week in a statement that members of the audience were reporting seeking medical attention as a result of seeing the Tannhäuser production. There were also reports of booing and heckling by audience members who attended the premiere.

Kosminski has defended his production and called the change a form of censorship. In an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, he said he was interested in exploring "the great archaic theme of guilt" during the Third Reich. He said his staging wasn't intended to ridicule victims of the Holocaust, but rather to mourn them.

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Comments [9]

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 09:30 AM
Mark from Brooklyn

Reactionary? For suggesting that the composer had a certain agenda in mind when he composed his opera? Is it wrong to believe that laughter during a new production of Rigoletto somehow doesn't seem to be the reaction Verdi had intended when he composed HIS opera?
If the director wants to show his creativity and test the open mindedness of his audience, perhaps he should commission his own opera and permit it to be staged by other directors who may or may not see the point he wished to express. There are plenty of contemporary composers who would jump at the opportunity. Don't use the 'classics' to inflate your egos.

May. 22 2013 12:58 AM
John J. Christiano from Franklin

This seems to be a perennial "throwing out the baby with the bath water". i.e., "We don't like the composer, so we don't like his music either".

I don't understand how a Christian icon smeared with feces, can be hung at an art exhibit, and be considered "art", while a performance of Tannhauser, subjected to the same artistic interpretation, is considered a resurrection of Nazism.

Sounds like you are all liberals when it suits you.

May. 20 2013 08:25 AM
Ursula Hahn from Brooklyn, NY

Kosminski's concept represents one of the worst excesses of German "Regietheater." This system is only possible by the subsidies that theaters receive from the federal, state, county and municipal governments (taxpayers!) to support their budgets and plug deficits at the end of the season. I'm glad some patrons of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein finally felt enough was enough.

I read hundreds of readers' comments in four German dailies and Der Spiegel. At least 50 percent, if not more, criticized the censorship applied by the opera house's management in canceling subsequent performances. Sadly, only a handful deplored the fact that Kosminski's equating the Holocaust with Tannhaeuser's sin of consorting with Venus and singing glowingly of physical love is a cynical and despicable decision on the director's part. Unfortunately, I haven't come across a single review of the "artistic" success or failure of this production.

May. 19 2013 04:25 PM
Bernie from UWS

@coolobserver - we've heard your reactionary comments on this production before. It's curious how you seem to have such defined opinions about a staging you clearly haven't seen yet. If you had, you might actually understand what the director is trying to communicate.

More generally, American (and especially NY) opera fans can be amazingly close-minded about what they think the art form should or shouldn't be. Go to dance, theater, independent film or performance art and directors are constantly stretching the boundaries - in fact it's expected that they do. Only in NY opera do people expect museum-like reenactments of the way opera was done in the 19th century.

May. 18 2013 10:03 PM
Markonymous from Brooklyn

This is not Wagner's Tannhauser. It is a theater piece set to the music of Wagner's opera, Tannhauser. Once you change the libretto, you change the opera.

If Mr. Burkhard Kosminski was even half the artist he claims to be, he would have the balls to change the name of this production to something original.

Why did he rewrite the libretto and still give all the credit (or blame) to Richard Wagner?
Was it out of modesty or cowardice?

May. 18 2013 12:13 PM

Dear Mr. Kenneth Bennett Lane, Will you please stop using every comment to promote yourself and your past. It is getting very boring. Sorry, but it seems to be misusing this site.

As for this subject: How sad that it 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! I have written off any future attendance of the repugnant Alden brothers' work (which sadly seems to dominate the NYCO these days), I am sick of Robert LaPage's horrors, not to mention the jerk who did Rigoletto at the Met, and the ridiculous Parsifal. Jonathan Miller is often a genius and is able to conceive of a new presentation with drama, spectacle and most importantly consistent authenticity. Peter Sellars gets it right about half the time, and needs a governess or chaperone reign in his more excessive obsessions or looney ideas. Peter Gelb has NO TASTE and little COMMON SENSE. He makes great movies, and I hope he continues doing that, but please get him out of the aesthetic decision making!

His double standard of riding hideous, absurd or the sensationalistic on the back of great music and great singers is sickening. Where is the sense to demand the best musicians and best singers and match them up with novices of directors and designers. Mr. Gelb wants to bring cinematic values and Broadway pizzazz, when opera lovers want something far deeper and more eternal. The Met, until he started was a bastion of higher values than the idiocy, vulgarity and obsessive nonsense he has inserted. Of course, this pleases reviewers as it gives them something easy to talk about, especially Tommassini who seems blind half the time and beholden to Gelb for the rest. I have cut back my Met going by 2/3. I do not like most "relocations" no matter who is singing. And many of us are praying Jimmy Levine will bring back some traditional values.

May. 18 2013 11:56 AM
Peter Feldman from New York City

The German people ALWAYS have longing for Nazism and would do all over again the same without any hesitance, do not do it because USA do not let them.
There is nothing in Tannhauser to insert Nazi symbols in any production and that is also insulting to the Holocaust and the Jewish people.

May. 18 2013 11:39 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

I am a Wagnerian romantischer heldentenor and on my fourth solo concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, an ALL-WAGNER concert, "WAGNER: THE EPIC AND THE LYRIC," I sang Wagner's Lullaby "Schlafe mein Kind" in that 3 hour long solo concert that so intrigued the audience that they called out for an encore. The Lullaby is so different from Wagner's other works and so melodically beautiful as to rival Brahms' Lullaby, that its reason for being is known to be his own experience as a parent. My singing of Wagner's lullaby "Schlafe mein Kind" at my three hour long "Wagner: THE EPIC AND THE LYRIC" concert was on Thursday, May 28th, 1998. It stirred up considerable talk in print of the "other side" of the Wagner's personality that once was considered fiery and belligerent by those not knowing of the man behind the music. , I sang Wagner's complete Wesendonck Lieder in both my ALL-WAGNER concerts on Sunday, JUNE 18th, 1995 and Thursday, MAY 28th, 1998.

May. 18 2013 09:06 AM

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