A scene of the opera 'Tannhauser' during a dress rehearsal in western Germany, April 30, 2013.
A scene of the opera 'Tannhauser' during a dress rehearsal in western Germany, April 30, 2013. Photo by Deutsche Oper am Rhein / AP
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A modern version of Richard Wagner's "Tannhauser" has been canceled in Germany after the opening-night audience complained about new scenes showing people dying in gas chambers and members of a family having their heads shaved before being executed.

Spokeswoman for Duesseldorf's opera house, Monika Doll, said there would only be concert performances without theatrical staging.  Producer Burkhard Kosminski had refused to tone down the disputed scenes, even though the Holocaust-related parts prompted several in the audience on Saturday to seek medical attention, she said.

Wagner remains a controversial figure in Germany because of his anti-Semitic views. Adolf Hitler was an admirer, and playing Wagner's music is considered a taboo in Israel.

Doll said earlier this week that members of the audience "booed and were shocked" by Saturday's opening performance. .

"Members of the audience booed and banged the doors when they left the opera house in protest before the end of the show," the head of the city's Jewish community told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Michael Szentei-Heise called the adaptation at the city's Deutsche Oper am Rhein "tasteless and not legitimate."

The director, Christoph Meyer, said in a statement that the opera company never wanted to hurt the feelings of the viewers. "This is not about mocking the victims, but mourning them," Meyer said.

At the opening of the Duesseldorf performance, performers could be seen inside glass chambers, falling to the floor as white fog flowed – an allusion to the mass killings of the Jews in the Nazis' death camps. After a half hour, the music stopped and a family stepped on stage. The parents and their children were having their hair shaved off before being shot dead – another reference to treatment of Jewish captives during the Holocaust.

The original Tannhauser opera is set in the Middle Ages and was first performed in Dresden in 1845. It is based on a traditional ballad about the bard Tannhauser and features a singing contest at the Wartburg Castle in south-central Germany.

Szentei-Heise, the Jewish community leader, objected to the inclusion of scenes reminiscent of the Holocaust, which occurred nearly a century after the opera was first performed.

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

Wagner, an ardent anti-Semite, remains a controversial figure in Germany and elsewhere nearly 130 years after his death. Adolf Hitler was an admirer, and playing Wagner's music is still considered a taboo.