Opera House Reconsiders Production Featuring Muhammad's Head

The Berlin opera house widely criticized for withdrawing a production amid fears it might provoke violence from Muslims may consider re-staging the opera if it receives security assurances.

Deutche Oper managing director Kirsten Harms stressed in an interview with the B.Z. newspaper that Mozart's "Idomeneo" has not been dropped completely.

"'Idomeneo' has not been canceled," Harms said in comments published Thursday. "Only the four November performances are not being performed because we live in a very sensitive time."

CountryWatch: Germany

She didn't elaborate on what that meant for the opera's fate, since no further performances are scheduled. Bild newspaper reported Deutsche Oper spokesman Alexander Busche said that "if we get the appropriate security guarantees, then we would seriously consider resuming the production."

One scene of the production features the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad — an invention of director Hans Neuenfels.

He refused a request to remove that particular bit from his production — his protest, as he put it, "against any form of organized religion or its founder." The production had not been performed since 2004.

Harms and the company have been widely criticized by politicians and in the news media for dropping the four performances after receiving a security warning from police. Many critics have said it was an unnecessary capitulation to fear and a blow to freedom of speech.

At a government summit Tuesday with Islamic leaders, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble proposed that the participants go to see the opera together if it is ever staged again. Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in, saying, "Self-censorship out of fear is not acceptable."

The Bild newspaper asked in a headline "Why are we bowing to Islam" and published a doctored picture of the Reichstag parliament building with a crescent and minarets, the towers associated with mosques.

Berlin's top cultural official, Thomas Flierl, said that he wanted the opera brought back. "We want to create conditions so that the opera can be possible again," he told B.Z.

The opera debate comes amid controversy over remarks by Pope Benedict XVI, who outraged many in the Muslim world by quoting a Christian emperor's words that termed Islam "evil" and "inhuman," and follows the outrage earlier this year over caricatures of Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper.

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