Violent Nazi Imagery During Wagner Opera In Düsseldorf Causes Emotion & Controversy

Brad Bershad

by Brad Bershad

Published May 10, 2013


The New York Times reports that a recent performance of Wagner's Opera Tannhäuser in Düsseldorf’s depicting graphic violence and Nazi imagery that it provoked a "a cascade of boos [that] turned into a flood of complaints" and such an emotional reaction that some audience members "sought medical attention":

According to news media reports, the opera showed the title character dressed as a concentration camp guard shooting Jewish prisoners. The opera’s statement said distraught audience members even sought medical attention after watching the depictions of executions.

The opera house, known as Deutsche Oper am Rhein, has responded by stripping away the imagery and making the performance a concert.

“We are reacting with the utmost concern to the fact that a few scenes, particularly a very realistic depiction of a shooting scene, obviously led to great stress for numerous visitors... After considering all the arguments, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot justify such an extreme effect of our artistic work.”

An interesting element to the story is censorship. It seems like the director has made an artistic decision and he isn't happy about having to calm things down. NY Times reports:

The director, Burkhard C. Kosminski, declined to make changes to soften the impact of the violence. He told the newspaper Westdeutsche Zeitung that he had been completely transparent with the opera house about his intent for the production and that he was not a “scandal director.”

“It would be good if the debate continued,” Mr. Kosminski said, “and we learned what the underlying reasons were for this great emotionality.”

Richard Wagner was a noted anti-semite during his lifetime from 1813-1883. Future generations of Wagners became closely associated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. His place in German history is complicated, as pointed out by the NY Times article and an article referenced therein: Wagner's Dark Shadow: Can We Separate the Man from His Works? by Dirk Kurbjuweit in Spiegel Online.

Check out this full 3 hour performance video of Tannhäuser with english and spanish subtitles filmed in 1978 on YouTube:

Click here for the full New York Times article by Nicholas Kulish

Opera Politics Stage & Screen
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