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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Berlin Opera cancels "Idomeneo"

My good friend Ian G. sent me this via e-mail. I thought he wouldn't mind me posting his thoughts, as it's worth some discussion...

"From the Times today: The Berlin Opera has cancelled a production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" because one scene features a character holding the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha, Poseidon, and -- here's the problem -- the Prophet Muhammad, and the opera's directors would rather not have a performance bombed:


This is a level of potentially blog-worthy scariness that I'd not seen before: a theatre company preemptively pulling work before anyone has a chance to object to it, for fear of violent retribution. Is this paranoia? Cowardice? Good sense? Letting the terrorists win? I haven't sorted that out…

What I am starting to worry about is that cultural institutions globally might reach the same conclusions as the Berlin Opera, and succumb to a kind of preemptive terrorism, silencing themselves out of fear. I may be overreacting, but if we allow our fears of terrorism to dictate what we can do in our work, where does it end? Art that is not free to offend without the artists risking genuine harm seems to me the first step down a path to no art at all. Or am I being unreasonable?"


Ian G. said...

There is an extended story in the Times today:


It states that apparently there was an anonymous threat made to the Berlin Opera that made them cancel the production. Which changes things a bit - when I saw the original story on the AP, the opera was reportedly cancelled even though they hadn't yet been threatened. I'm still alarmed, though - by this logic, since the idea of a Muslim converting to Christianity is intolerable to extremists, we can expect threats to theaters performing "Othello". Since I've mentioned Shakespeare, also recall that Islamic law (as well as Jewish and Christian law)forbids cross-dressing, so most of Shakespeare's comedies could bring you death threats as well. Again, somebody jump in and tell me I'm overreacting, but it seems we're on a slippery slope here - between the Muslim and Christian fundamentalists currently controlling the political landscape, we could find our work at the center of a culture war that is, literally, war.

Ian G. said...

And in what is either a brave assertion of freedom or a foolish incitement to violence, the Times chose to run two pictures from the production - one is a photo of a singer playing the Prophet Muhammad, which is against Islamic law on so many levels it's hard to know where to start, and a second photo of a singer with Muhammad's SEVERED HEAD! Question for the room: Given what happened over those Danish cartoons recently, is the Times being brave or foolish? Or are they figuring no one but ivory-tower liberal pansies are gonna care what's in the Arts section? Discuss.