Nazi-themed Wagner opera cancelled in Dusseldorf

The BBC's Steve Evans reports from Berlin

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A controversial production of a Wagner opera at one of the major German opera houses has been cancelled because of harrowing scenes involving Nazis.

The Rheinoper, based in Dusseldorf, said some of the audience had to seek medical help following early performances of Tannhauser.

But the producer "refused" to tone down the staging, set in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.

The production has now been cancelled with only concert performances planned.


Wagner was a rabid anti-Semite and one of the biggest fans of his music was Hitler - so productions of his operas in Germany often cause a row.

Last year, the Russian baritone, Evgeny Nikitin, was forced to withdraw from the title role in the Flying Dutchman when it was learnt that, as a youth in a heavy-metal band, he had had a very large swastika tattooed on his chest.

The current production of Tristan and Isolde, at the Deutscheoper in Berlin, features naked 'junkies' walking across the stage.

When the Welsh National Opera recently did Die Meistersinger in Cardiff (with Bryn Terfel) some German visitors congratulated the company on doing a traditional production celebrating German culture. It would not, they thought, be easy to do in their own country.

The 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth is about to be celebrated and every German opera house seems to be planning new productions. Expect more rows.

"After considering all the arguments, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot justify such an extreme impact of our artistic work," said a statement from Deutsche Oper am Rhein.

"With paramount concern, we note that some scenes (especially the shooting scene) were depicted very realistically," the statement continued, causing "psychological and physical stress" to some audience members.

Despite "intensive conversation" with German theatre director and actor Burkhard C Kosminski about possible changes to the production, "he refused to do this for artistic reasons", according to the statement.

"Of course, we have to respect - and also for legal reasons - the artistic freedom of the director," the opera house said.

Management at the Rheinoper said they were aware that the "concept and implementation" of the Kosminski's production would be "controversial".

The production, which opened last weekend, provoked "violent protests" on its opening night, according to local newspaper reports.

Head of Dusseldorf's Jewish community Michael Szentei-Heise told the Associated Press news agency: "Members of the audience booed and banged the doors when they left the opera house in protest".

He called the adaptation "tasteless and not legitimate".

The original Tannhauser, set in Germany in the Middle Ages, was first performed in Dresden in 1845.

It was based on a traditional ballad about the bard Tannhauser and features a singing contest at the Wartburg Castle.

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