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Nazi-themed Tannhäuser: now the Israeli ambassador weighs in

While the management of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein debates whether or not to cancel Burkhard C. Kosminski’s new Tannhäuser production, the Israeli ambassador to Germany has voiced a timely, unofficial protest. Yaakov Hada-Handelsman: ‘Any use of Nazi symbols in such a framework is misplaced.’

Meanwhile, the box-office is reportedly besieged by operagoers calling to cancel their tickets. ‘We did not forsee this,’ said press officer Monika Doll.

tannhauser nazi2

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  1. Yes. Because Nazi symbols and Wagner’s music have never been in juxtaposition before.

  2. Michael says:

    I had read earlier this afternoon the link you provided in relation to your comment about the box office being “reportedly besieged” and that this had not been foreseen by the press officer. I have just re-read it as your comments did not relate to what I remembered. The press officer’s comment comes first and, from the RP Online article it is clear that what she was saying is that they had not foreseen the extent of the public reaction to the production. The article then continues – calmly and without exaggeration – to state that there had been calls by subscribers and other ticket-holders asking to exchange their tickets: it appears subscribers will be able to exchange and others will get a credit note. There is no mention of the box office being “besieged”, let alone of any ticket-holders calling to cancel their tickets!

    Before this you had rushed to claim that the production had been cancelled after one performance and even now you are suggesting without any apparent evidence that the management is seriously discussing cancellation, whereas from what I have read it seems that what they are doing is discussing the public reaction and the production itself with the director and may be considering making changes to the production.

    Your contributors on this topic seem to be divided into two camps. One is extreme reaction simply rejecting the production because it’s “Regietheater” and they don’t like any non-traditional productions and the other is trying to call for some kind of uninflamed discussion. What’s clearly missing from these pages – apart from some cool heads – is some full details of the production itself, not just the Nazi imagery. And do we know how many actually stayed the full four and a half hours, either enjoying the production or prepared to stay and enjoy a challenging night in the theatre?

    • itrinkkeinwein says:

      I’m not sure there is any need to attack NL this way. After all, w/o Slipped Disc you probably wouldn’t know about this staging.

    • Well said, indeed.

      What are the facts by now?

      - There’s a Tannhäsuer production in Düsseldorf with Nazi symbols and gas chambers on stage.
      - The (few) reviews available seem to agree that the stage production is rather poor.
      - There’s some controversy on this in the local media.

      Nothing really unusual so far. Naturally there are good and not so good opera productions.

      - Furthermore, there’s the rumour that the production may be taken off. This would indeed be unusual, but it is, so far, only a rumour.
      - Neither Norman nor anyone of those who comment on this issue here has seen the production. So none of us is in a position to judge it in a qualified way.

      So, why should these facts tell us anything about the questions
      - whether Regietheater is good or evil
      - whether it is OK or not to use Nazi symbols when staging Wagner operas?

      Or would anyone damn forever period instruments just because there was one poor performance of Bach on period instruments? The same applies here.

      • anonBari says:

        Totally agree. This production may be lousy, but there are plenty of very good Regietheater productions that defy all kinds of “rules”. Besides, traditional productions are hardly a guarantee of quality.

    • You are very confused, indeed.

      • Victor says:

        Shame on Israel ambassador to protest Wagner opera production, when performance of Wagner music in Israel get outraged by public. Israel state can’t speak for all Jewish, German history, R.Wagner . Jew in USA

      • Michael accurately summarized the RP Online article quoted here and also how things stand at the moment, at least as they are reported by German news media. Indeed none of these reports mentioned a possible cancellation, only possible modifications of certain details of the production, probably to be discussed between Christoph Meyer and Burkhard Kosminski in a phone call tonight.

        Concerning the final question Michael raised: People who attended the performance write that not very much people left. Instead these accounts suggest that there must have been quite a tumult between the pro and con parties in the audience.

        Just one more point: It’s not just about the Nazi context. It’s about a Wagner opera being put in this context. And this constitutes breaking a taboo for a Wagnerianer, up to this date.

  3. Monica Berserk says:

    So is the Honorable Mr. Hada-Handelsman a music critic, a dramaturge, the author of a respected treatise on the use of National Socialist imagery in the arts, or did he simply attend a performance of the production in question?

  4. It says something about the liveliness of Germany’s cultural life that the stage direction of an opera can provoke such heated reaction and discussion — which ironically is often one of the functions of Regietheater. And strangely, the mob carrying torches and pitch forks seems to be mostly people from English-speaking countries, most of whom will probably see few German productions in their lives – if any at all. And of course, most of whom have not seen the production under discussion. It is interesting how music and its staging can sometimes unify people, and sometimes also provoke enormous intolerance. Wagner was very successful at making a sort of religion out of his music — something that Hitler utilized very well.

  5. I am a young Jew from Germany, my grandparents are Holocaust survivers! I love opera and felt insulted to see such stuff in a German opera house. It is not the question whether the director wanted to critizise Nazis or Wagner’s antisemitism! This has nothing lost on stage and there is no connection to Tannhäuser. But it appearantly some people call me a mob for my opinion, as they call the Jewish Community of Düsseldorf, the Ambassador, the audience….. Well, after all These reaction do not surprise me!

    • harold braun says:

      Dear Mordi,you exactly express my feelings.I have the same family backround as you,and i feek it is very unappropriate to say the least to abuse these horrors for a publicity stunt to get into the news.As a jew I find it at least very unsensitive.

  6. Max von Lütgendorff says:

    It’s not important at all if Mr. Handelsman is a critic or dramaturg!!
    It is important though what the audience – for whom we are doing all of that!! – thinks about this kind of opera.
    And most of the people are completely fed up with that Regietheater-Stuff! Please note that there are still people who weren’t allowed to experience operas as they should be.
    Especially younger people and the non-pseudointelectuals (which is about 80% plus of the audience) deseve(!!) to see and listen the opera(s) like composer and libretto’s author meant them to be.
    Watching dark and close to sick phantasty of egocentric directors clearly has worn out!

    Best regards

  7. When life and art meet: A high profile trial began in Germany today of members of a Neo-Nazi group that murdered 8 Turks, 1 Greek, and a German police woman. They also committed two bombings and 15 bank robberies. There are 3 million Turks living in Germany. Many of them have been protesting at the courthouse in Munich because it took 13 years for the police to arrest the members of this Nazi group. For an article about the trial and an interesting slide show with a couple rather operatic shots, see:

    • harold braun says:

      Truly abominable,and I hope they will get the strongest verdict and the government will do everything to prevent similar atrocities.But,Mr.Osborne,this has nothing,I repeat,nothing to do,with art.In germany far too many people do confuse poltics and ideologies with art.One explanation is,that after 12 years of succumbing to a psychotic third rate would be artist they readily submitted to the artistic dictatorship of a third rate would be composer,T.W.Adorno And they unlearnt to listen to music with open ears,hearts and minds,generations of musicologists radio promotors and cultural managers stopped reading scores and listening to tons of music in favour of repeating parrot-fashion Adorno’s blather,declaring it to cultural laws,dismissing every composer who didn’t fit the scheme.I repeat ,everybody,and artists in particular,has the moral obbligation to protest against these things,be it in speech,in printed word or on the street,or by giving moral support by performing,or better still,writing great music.But art should be judged from purely artistic values,otherwise it is not good,but merely well meant! I never forget,what the late Sir Colin Davis said in an interview in answer to the question why Sibelius was far more popular in English speaking countries then in Germany(at least after Adorno’s idiotic verdict on him):After a characteristic long break to think,Sir Colin said in a quiet voice:”Well,the English do listen”.I think,that says a lot !

      • So art is a sanctified realm entirely apart from the world?

        • harold braun says:

          No,but you shouldn’t confuse both.

          • So is Wagner’s music a sanctified realm that should not be confused with the real world?
            Are the borders between art and life an absolute? Or should they be, within reason, defined by personal decisions?

            Hitler saw Wagner’s work as an absolute definition of life, nationhood, and society. For him, the Third Reich was a large work of music theater to an astoundingly literal degree. Fortunately, his Götterdämmerung was more complete than the revolution he hoped would lead to a new world order of scientifically bred but romantically transcendent supermen.

            And worse, the larger design of Hitler’s ideology as an “artist-prophet” included the recreation of humanity according to a new aesthetic, as evidenced in the images National Socialism used to portray the “master race.” From this perspective, the Holocaust was a work of art, a “purification” of culture, a “sculpting” of the human being.

            So yes, there are times when the relationship between art and life should not be confused, but since Hitler alone defined the borders between life and art, no one was allowed to provide differing views.

            So is the danger the subjective nature of the borders between life and art, or the propensity toward totalizing beliefs about them? Has European history shown a propensity toward absolutist beliefs about art such as National Socialism or Social Realism? In this discussion we are seeing calls to shut down an opera production. Is this absolutism justified? Does the opera explore borders between life and art whose interpretation should should be forbidden?

  8. Laurids says:

    Such a relief, yet again, to read about The Nazis….so much more enjoyable than any real topic of discussion.

  9. Olivier Keegel says:

    You remember the days of Apartheid? Racists would say that you could only judge it when you had visited South Africa. Can we only judge Hitler if we had lived in Germany in the 30s and 40s? Can we only judge this piece of disgusting Regietrash after attending this production in Düsseldorf? One again people who reject this kind of obscenities are wrongly accused : ” they don’t like any non-traditional productions”, Of course, this is not about traditional or non-traditional. This is about sheer madness and ultimate bad taste – Tannhäuser has nothing to do with the Third Reich, Wagner has nothing to do with the concentration camps. And, of course, there is always that other Big Ckiché: ” It is interesting how music and its staging can sometimes unify people, and sometimes also provoke enormous intolerance. ” OMG, a small-time Erasmus trying to convey an intellectual overview. Throwing in the Third Reich in is one of the biggest clichés of Regietheater. It seems that people, even in Germany, are more and more refusing to be fooled by these fraudulent practices. It is only a matter of time…

    • “Wagner has nothing to do with the concentration camps”

      Very true, but several of the camps had somewhat to do with Wagner, and the composer’s antisemitism is well-documented.

      • Snezana says:

        Do not mix frogs and chickens! Wagner was ruthlessly used for their purposes.
        The very fact is: “Tanhäuser” really doesn’t have anything to do with national sozialism! Not one single thing! It has to do with the dilemma of love , it’s physical and platonic aspects. It has to do with art. It has to do with decisions etc. if here the physical aspect of love means forbidden in love, well: nowerdays is nothing forbidden: people do it all the time, everywhere, with both sexes, with mashines, in groups, or animals- nothing is forbidden today. But torture, psychopathy, kruelness , fascism , holocaust, if that is what Tanhauser neads to get aroused? … Well poor Wagner! He probably would have never composed it if he new what is going to happen with it – antysemit or not.
        What I do not get is: why may we not enjoy it as it was ment? Are we so perverse that we cannot identifie with heros of other era? We can whenn we watch movies, we do feel with Spartacus, or Hanibal, or Gladiator etc… Why not in the opera?
        I’ll never understand it why not as it was ment…

      • Olivier Keegel says:

        If you agree that Wagner has nothing to do with the Third Reich, then you will undoubtedly also agree that concentration camps / gas chambers are totally out of place in a WAGNER opera. After all, Lohengrin is not an opera about gas chambers or any subject even remotely connect with the Third Reich. In other words, Regietrash in its clearest form. By the way, not only Wagner’s antisemitism is well documented, the antisemitism of that entire era is too.

    • Snezana says:

      You are so right! I do hope that Sommerhoff will change soon. Those is not funny any more!

      • Snezana says:

        Something… Sorry

      • Olivier Keegel says:

        I think indeed something is changing, Snezana. The Facebook Group “Against Modern Opera Producions” already has 5000 members (please join!). People are sick and tired of this kind of disgusting madness, concocted by egomaniac stage directors who do not know the first thing about opera and are supported by a bunch of semi-intellectuals who’s first concern is “am I avantgardistic enough?”…

        • Snezana says:

          Yes, I am there, I used to write much, but now I mostly read. I strongly feel that it must go out of internet if there is to be acheved. It must get proportion of a earthquake really. People should write to directions, they should write in masses to papers, to ministrys or other financiers who release money for this junk , who put certain people in lading chairs in theaters and are responsible for this junk to take place! The institution of GMD (General Musik Director) is firing out, why? Because it is their responsibility to take care about the genuinity of the Operatic work, and the quality of not only orchestral presentation but , for all, vocal art that takes place on stage! So they are simply shut out.
          You have a fenomena in Germany that all the GMDs gathered in an association in pursuit for HELP! Only one German GMD (Barenboim) refused to join! They feel so helpless and threatened. Complete disaster!
          I doubt they they may move something without the serious work from high above and this can be archived only if audience, and tax payers make an “invasion” on politics. Otherwise, I am afraid that the “other” taxpayers who prefer Octoberfest or hip-hop will do everything they can to kill this money eating junk monster called operatic theatre, and with it it will dye everything with it – like education of classical singers etc…
          We will have it than soon that they will put an old recording of Tanhauser and some people will mime “play back” the Regie theatre!!!
          I sooooo mad!

          • Snezana says:

            PS: sometimes it is hopless:
            Few weeks ago I had an intervew with theokal paper. I tried to talk about these thing- it was cut out. Madness!

  10. Snezana says:

    It tragic that no one ever commented the musical aspect of this performance. No one sais how the singers sang or the orchestra played, or anything about the music! Everything turns about this calculated piece of rubbish made by a stage director, who now has the press, the scandal and the money! Who is going to be drawn to wear the responsibility for the enormous costs of the ruined production? Will someone loos his/her job because of all this? I doubt! And the audience , who is really screwed up, may get 3€ (!!! Hallo) if they give their tickets back! Scandalous.
    For all, the Regie Theater which is in 95% pure rubbish and calculated scandal, and public rape of the operatic work, art of singing and music it self, ruins the future if cultivated singing art . People who never crossed the doors of a music school or musical education took over all decisions in the vocal-music business and the vocal art IS about to die! THAT is the real tragic of this case which is for a long time not alone!
    It must be something done, or in 10-15 years there will not be joung singers who sing properly…

    • Olivier Keegel says:

      “For all, the Regie Theater which is in 95% pure rubbish and calculated scandal, and public rape of the operatic work, art of singing and music it self, ruins the future if cultivated singing art . ”

      Hear, hear! Very well put, excellent synopsis of what is going on.

  11. I wonder if the reactions would be so strong if Nazi themed Regietheater were used for an opera other than by Wagner, such as Verdi or Rossini — which happens on occassion. Are the reactions we see in this discussion stronger because of the quasi-religious aspect of Wagner’s music? This discussion, for example, is similar to the indignation expressed when relgious beliefs are insulted — though short of death threats. It would appear the stage direction is not merely bad art; it is apostasy. Ironically, the outrage could be seen as justifying the director’s intentions — an exploration of the attitudes, both artistic and spiritual, that surround Wagner and his work.

    • Olivier Keegel says:

      A director who wants to explore “the attitudes, both artistic and spiritual, that surround Wagner and his work” should do that in his own free time. Write a book or a play, write an opera, whatever! But do not abuse the work of someone who’s talent is superior to your own talent.

    • Basia Jaworski says:

      It’s not about Wagner only, it’s about artistic integrity.
      I saw Tosca set in Auschwitz. Mose in Egytto (and Samson) in …… of course, Gaza (very easy and normal today, elas),. Romeo et Juliette in Srebrenica. and I realy can’t count all the clowns (no, not in Pagliacci) and Onegin and Lenski are NOT in love! Neither Gustavo and Rene are!

      If you do not have a point you just do _something_.
      Nazi’s, porn and bloodshit will ever do. People are going to talk about it and you are going to get more and more work. For a lot of money – you are talk of the town, aren’t you?

  12. Regarding the latest fiasco in Düsseldorf with Tannhäuser.

    Nach über 20 Jahre Erfahrung in diesem Beruf, es scheint mir in Europa heutzutage das “artistic freedom” gilt nur für schlechte “Eurotrash” Regiseure. Die Rechte und die Meinung der Künstler die die Arbeit richtig machen das heisst: die Sänger – werden total ignoriert und wer sich gegen das Konzept des Regiseurs äussert, landet meistens auf der Strasse und ist arbeitslos.

    The only people who seem to have the right of freedom of expression these days are “Eurotrash” stage directors. Any singer who dares ask a question or disagree with a stage director’s “concept” is very soon out of a job and black balled throughout the industry. Everyone in an opera production is bound by the score: the singer, the conductor, the musicians and the stage director. It is time for stage directors to return to authentic performance practices when staging an operatic master work. Stage directors who desire to vandalise a great masterpiece such as Tannhäuser should do so in the privacy of their own home or on the couch of their psychoanalyst, but not at the expense of the paying audience and most of all the singers and musicians who have to endure such nonsense.

  13. “As for the degenerate artists, I forbid them to force their so-called experiences upon the public. If they do see fields blue, they are deranged, and should go to an asylum. If they only pretend to see them blue, they are criminals, and should go to prison. I will purge the nation of them.” – Adolf Hitler

    It is probably not a coincidence that all of this polemic about degenerate art, artists as insane, the vandalization of art, the superiority of authentic art, art and artists as trash, effete intellectuals, and good artists blackballed by mediocre gate keepers comes up in connection with a Wagner production in Germany. In any case, the ironies are rich indeed.

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