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Wagner opera canceled in Germany after Holocaust scenes send spectators to hospital

Published time: May 10, 2013 09:10
Edited time: May 10, 2013 12:40
his undated recent handout picture released by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein opera house shows actors playing a scene of the opera "Tannhaeuser" by German composer Richard Wagner at the Deutsche Oper am Rhen in Duesseldorf, western Germany. (AFP Photo/Deutsche Oper am Rhein)

his undated recent handout picture released by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein opera house shows actors playing a scene of the opera "Tannhaeuser" by German composer Richard Wagner at the Deutsche Oper am Rhen in Duesseldorf, western Germany. (AFP Photo/Deutsche Oper am Rhein)

A retelling of Richard Wagner's opera 'Tannhäuser' set in Nazi Germany was cancelled on opening night after ten audience members in a Dusseldorf theater were taken to hospital in apparent shock over disturbing scenes showing Jews dying in gas chambers.

Wagner's original opera takes place on the mythical mountain Venusberg, but the revamped production at the Rheinoper theater is set during the Holocaust. In it, one of the scenes reportedly showed a family ordered to strip naked and shave their heads before being slaughtered by the Nazis.

Another scene that provoked a wave of boos from the audience in Duesseldorf drew an allusion to the notorious Nazi gas chambers, with naked figures in glass cubes covered in artificial fog.

A Deutsche Oper am Rhein staff member said over 10 theatergoers asked for medical help after the performance, which many of them later described as shocking. Stage director Burkhard Kosminki has refused to tone down the performance, leading the opera house to announce it will not continue to run the production in its current form.

"It was with great astonishment that we noted that some scenes, in particular very realistic execution scenes, caused physical and psychological distress to a number of spectators who had to seek medical help," a statement on the Rheinoper's website said.

“After the scandal Burkhard C. Kosminski’s staging caused in the premiere on May 4, we have decided to perform 'Tannhäuser' from May 9 in concert,” the opera company added.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of birth of the renowned composer, whose music has been unofficially boycotted in Israel for decades.

However, despite saying that Wagner’s adaptation was "in bad taste,” Michael Szentei-Heise, the head of Duesseldorf' Jewish community, told German press agency DPA that while Wagner was an “ardent anti-Semite... he had nothing to do with the Holocaust."

Attempts in Israel to perform music by Wagner, a supporter of anti-Semitic views, often spark controversy.

Last year, Tel Aviv University canceled a Wagner concert scheduled for June following a wave of protests against the show, which activists said would “deeply offend the Israeli public in general and Holocaust survivors in particular.”