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Gas Chamber Wagner Canceled as Audience Seeks Medical Aid

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May 9 (Bloomberg) -- A new staging of Richard Wagner’s opera “Tannhaeuser” set during the Holocaust was canceled after some scenes so upset audience members at the Dusseldorf opera house that they sought medical attention after the performance.

The Deutsche Oper am Rhein said the opera will be performed only in concert from today, ditching the staging. A statement sent by e-mail last night said the decision was made after “some scenes, particularly a very realistic shooting scene, clearly affected numerous audience members so strongly both psychologically and physically that they had to seek medical help afterward.”

The staging provoked an outcry at its May 4 premiere, according to Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper. The opening scene depicted Tannhaeuser as a concentration camp guard, shooting newly arrived Jewish prisoners, the paper said.

Other scenes depicted death in gas chambers, suicides by self-immolation, rape and other brutalities, Der Spiegel magazine reported. The premiere audience gave their verdict with loud boos, according to the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger.

Wagner’s opera is more traditionally set in medieval Germany in a time of troubadours and picturesque castles. The hero is a singer who has fallen from grace for spending too much time on the mountain of love with Venus. In Dusseldorf, she morphed into a dominatrix.

The director, Burkhard Kosminski, declined to make changes to the relevant scenes, according to the statement.

“Of course -- and for legal reasons too -- we will respect the freedom of the artist,” the opera house said.

It is not the first time an opera has been taken off the stage in Germany for fear of upsetting audiences. In 2006, the Deutsche Oper in Berlin canceled performances of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” after officials warned it risked offending Muslims.

The production, directed by Hans Neuenfels, ended with a blood-spattered King Idomeneo placing the four severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed on chairs.

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, Jason Harper on cars, Rich Jaroslovsky on tech and Lance Esplund on U.S. art.

To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.