Dusseldorf cancels Nazi Tannhäuser

Deutsche Oper am Rhein abandon controversial production on “medical grounds”.

Burkhard C Kosminski’s production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser that generated a furore of criticism for its use of Nazi imagery has been officially cancelled. The cast will perform a concert version on the remaining dates.

In a statement the Deutsche Oper am Rhein said that although they knew that the production would be “controversial” they did not expect the extreme reactions that followed the opening night performance. Some patrons have apparently sought medical treatment for “psychological and physical stress”.

Kosminski was first asked if he would allow alterations to tone down the production but it seems that the director refused on artistic grounds.

The first performance of the opera was booed by outraged audience members outraged at the use of Nazi imagery. The production showed characters wearing Third Reich uniforms complete with swastikas while the overture included a scene where dancers were apparently trapped inside a transparent gas chamber. The character of Venus was dressed as an SS Officer while Tannhäuser, as one of her SS henchmen, was forced to murder a family.

The German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that audience members started booing about 30 minutes into the production. In addition there were a large number of walkouts with protestors deliberately slamming the exit doors to make their point. The director was reportedly accosted by angry patrons during the after-party and the opera house received a number of complaints from the local Jewish community.

Michael Szentei-Heise, the head of the Jewish community in Dusseldorf, called the production “tasteless”, pointing out that Wagner's anti-Semitism was not to be found in the music or libretto and thus the production was doing the composer a disservice. “It strikes me as odd to have to defend Wagner”, he told Die Zeit, but “Wagner had nothing to do with the Holocaust”.

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