Cancelling Holocaust opera is 'censorship’, claims German director

By Sandy Rashty, May 14, 2013
Richard Wagner (Photo: Cäsar Willich)

Richard Wagner (Photo: Cäsar Willich)

A German director has described the decision to cancel his Holocaust-themed opera production as "censorship".

Director Burkhard C Kosminski's modern production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhauser, which held its opening night at the Rheinoper in Düsseldorf, was cancelled last week after its traumatic scenes caused a number of guests to seek medical help.

Despite initial protests from the opera house, director Mr Kosminski reportedly insisted on a realistic portrayal of atrocities at a concentration camp "for artistic reasons", an opera house spokesperson told the BBC.

Graphic scenes included rape, suicide and a family having their heads shaved before they were shot.

Some guests were subsequently treated for shock.

"There was heckling during the performance," Mr Kosminski told Der Spiegel news. "When I bowed during the applause, there was a chorus of boos mixed with many bravos. At the premier party I was insulted heavily."

A spokesperson for the opera house added that “some scenes were depicted very realistically [and caused] psychological and physical stress."

Michael Szentei-Heise, head of the Jewish community in Dusseldorf, told the Associated Press that the production was "tasteless and not legitimate.

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

But the theater director insisted that: "the Jewish Community did not demand that the performance be withdrawn. My staging doesn't ridicule victims, but rather mourns them.

"What happened in Düsseldorf is the censorship of art. That is the actual scandal."

Wagner, who is widely regarded as an antisemite, was one of Adolf Hitler’s favourite musicians. Israelis still refrain from playing his music.

The production will now only be performed in concert.

Next week, the Wagner 200 festival will launch in London to commemorate the bicenturary of the man who wrote the antisemitic essay 'Judaism in Music' - likening the Jewish influence on culture to a "swarming colony of maggots" .

Wagner, who was said to inspire Hitler's concept of the "master race", once declared that "all Jews should burn to death".

The festival will launch next week and run until November.

Last updated: 11:15am, May 16 2013