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A German opera has been cancelled amid a storm of criticism after it featured performers dressed in Nazi uniform, a Jewish family being massacred and a brutal rape scene.
Members of the audience began walking out of Burkhard C. Kosminski’s interpretation of Wagner’s classic ‘Tannhaeuser’ after only 30 minutes and some required medical attention for ‘psychological trauma’.
The Rhine Opera House in Duesseldorf said although it knew the concert would be ‘controversial’ it had not expected such an extreme reaction.
Kosminksi said he had wanted to ‘address’ the anti-Semitic attitude of composers like Wagner, who was known to be one of Adolf Hitler’s favourites.
In one scene, naked performers came onto the stage in smoke-filled gas chambers to kill the character Venus, dressed as an S.S. officer, and a Jewish family in a parody of a WW2 massacre.
In another, a character called Elisabeth was brutally raped by Tannhauser’s rival Wolfram and left bloodied and crying on stage.
And finally, a mother, father and daughter were led up by members of the Wehrmacht – their clothes were removed, they were shaved and shot.
Kosminski was reportedly confronted at the first night after-party by angry critics who told him he had made ‘a travesty of German culture’.
Israel’s ambassador to Germany voiced his displeasure, and some left the theatre ‘bathed in sweat’ according to a report in the online edition of the local Rheinische Post.
Oded Horowitz, head of the Jewish community of North Rhine, said; ‘Survivors are likely to find the provocative handling of Nazi history in this Tannhaeuser production quite painful.’
‘While remembrance of Nazi crimes is important’, he said, ‘a theatre scandal is not our preferred form of confronting the past.’
The Rhine Opera House has confirmed that the production will be performed as a concert only for the remaining dates.
Last July, Russian opera singer Evgeny Nikitin was pressured to withdraw from Germany’s famous Bayreuth Opera Festival because of Nazi tattoos on his chest and arm. He was supposed to sing the lead in ‘The Flying Dutchman’.