Nazi-themed opera cancelled

A Dusseldorf production of Wagner's Tannhauser was cancelled this week after the producer "refused to tone down the staging, set in a concentration camp during the Holocaust." [BBC]


  1. There’s been a lot of discussion of “appropriateness”, but I’m going to chalk this up to “too soon”.  We’re perfectly comfortable with medieval displays of dehumanizing brutality and murder: we even romanticize them.  “Modern” examples still hit too close to home.

    1.  Oh, lets not read too much into it.  They are just trying to live out their “The producers” fantasy.

      Nazi are all over pop culture.  generally is fairly shallow unexamined ways.  Hogan’s heros was a sit com in POW camp run by Nazi for goodness sakes…. 

    2. Part of the issue is that the Nazi theme had absolutely nothing to do with the opera itself.  It was entirely gratuitous.

        1. That’s exactly right. I’m surprised they were able to get away with any performances before shutting it down.

        2. You’re wrong. It’s a common misconception that any use of Nazi symbolism is illegal often followed by the assumption (most often from Brits and USians) that this is intended to suppress this shameful part of german history.

          It’s not illegal to use Nazi Symbols “to further civil enlightenment, to avert unconstitutional aims, to promote art or science, research or teaching, reporting about current historical events or similar purposes.”

          The relevant excerpt of the German criminal code reads:

          § 86 StGB Dissemination of Means of Propaganda of Unconstitutional Organizations

          (1) Whoever domestically disseminates or produces, stocks, imports or exports or makes publicly accessible through data storage media for dissemination domestically or abroad, means of propaganda:
          1. of a party which has been declared to be unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court or a party or organization, as to which it has been determined, no longer subject to appeal, that it is a substitute organization of such a party;
          4. means of propaganda, the contents of which are intended to further the aims of a former National Socialist organization,shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine. […]
          (3) Subsection (1) shall not be applicable if the means of propaganda or the act serves to further civil enlightenment, to avert unconstitutional aims, to promote art or science, research or teaching, reporting about current historical events or similar purposes. […]

          1. Yes, which this isn’t.  Just because it’s being used in an operatic production doesn’t make it “art”. Gratuitously provocative is the best possible interpretation for what’s going on here.

      1. I’m loathe to dismiss a provocation out of hand.  As often as not, when I resist the powerful temptation to do so I’m rewarded.  Not that I would sit through this: in fact I generally avoid holocaust porn.  I get it.  I don’t need to get it more.

        On the other hand I’ve seen a million innocuous “re-contexualizations” of Shakespeare that were deeply gratutious.

        1. This just seems to have been bad art — a provocative staging to juice up the opera with some schmaltzrage.  As Sister Wendy said about Piss Christ, she wasn’t offended; she just found it simplistic.

  2. I don’t really understand how Tannhäuser would work in this setting.  Is this more of a critique of Wagner than an ernest attempt to recontextualise the work for a contemporary audience?  Is there anyplace with more detail about this production?

    In general, I’d like to give artists the benefit of the doubt when attempting a difficult work.  But in this case, it seems like the producer made a serious error in judgement.

    1.  I disagree.  If there’s any group that *needs* societal examination and artistic commentary, it’s the Nazi party.  The Germans of all people should be allowed to explore their past as, if you don’t catalogue your sins as well as your achievements, you’ll never learn from them.

      1. I wasn’t trying to say that the Nazi party didn’t need societal examination. Rather, I’m not sure how Tannhäuser could function as an effective vehicle for that examination. I’d like more information, going on the minimum I’ve gotten from the media this production seems questionable.

      2. I sincerely hope your not implying that Germany isn’t documenting or remembering their past. I seriously doubt there is another country on this planet that is researching and commemorating the horrible deeds of their history as thoroughly as Germany. Countries like the US would do well to do the same instead of constantly glorifying their militaristic history – perhaps then some of the atrocities committed in the last 60 years wouldn’t have happened.

      1.  Sorry but “Don’t be dumb, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party.”

  3. Well I think it’s wonderful that at least two people still demand quality, even if they have conflicting opinions about what quality is or is not.

  4. cf., The Day the Clown Cried.

    Harry Shearer was one of the few who actually saw the film. His review:
    “With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. “Oh My God!” – that’s all you can say.”

  5. The producer is being a headline-grubbing asshole. Wagner specified the music, the libretto, the stage directions, the costumes, and the settings of his operas, all as part of his conception of opera as Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Artwork). Mucking about with Wagner’s very specific instructions because you have a different idea isn’t “doing Wagner”, it’s just “playing at Wagner”.

    1.  I dunno. If any proto-fascist, narcissistic German composer deserves a thorough mucking-about-with, it’s Richard Strauss. Oops, I mean Wagner.

Comments are closed.