Canceled opera may be reinstated

September 29, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BERLIN -- Stung by harsh public criticism, the German opera house that canceled a Mozart opera for fear of provoking a violent reaction from Muslims said yesterday that it was considering reinstating the production, provided it could obtain adequate security from the police.

"We're discussing what we can do," a spokesman for the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Alexander Busche, said in an interview. "There has to be a new statement on security from the police."

City officials here said they were prepared to work with the Deutsche Oper on security for the opera Idomeneo and were encouraged by expressions of support from German Muslim leaders, despite a scene in the production that features the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad.

In a statement, Berlin's chief security official, Ehrhart Korting, acknowledged that the Deutsche Oper's decision on canceling the production probably should have been made after more consultation among the opera house, the police and other local authorities.

The flurry of second-guessing came after intense criticism by German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, that the opera house had surrendered its artistic freedom and yielded to fears of terrorism.

Busche declined to say when the production might be staged or under what security arrangements. He noted that the Deutsche Oper's director, Kirsten Harms, did not remove Idomeneo from the opera's repertoire, even after she canceled four performances scheduled for November, noting security concerns after police received an anonymous threat from a caller.

"Harms said from the very beginning that we might show it again at some point, when there is new information, new security arrangements, a new situation in the world," Busche said.

The momentum toward reversing the decision gathered pace after a conference Wednesday between government officials and representatives of Germany's more than 3 million Muslims. Though its purpose was to open a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims, it also served to allay fears of a violent Muslim reaction to the opera, at least within Germany.

Korting, who attended the meeting, said it was "helpful" that the Muslim leaders "made it clear that German Muslims don't see damage to their religious feelings in the restaging of the production."

Critics have pointed out that while this tempest rages in Berlin, a theater in Frankfurt has been performing The Last Virgin, a play about Israeli-Palestinian relations that satirizes both Islam and Judaism, sometimes in savage terms. A German Jewish group protested that it was anti-Semitic.

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