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Cancellation of Nazi-flavored 'Tannhauser' shocks its director

Cancellation of Nazi-flavored 'Tannhauser' shocks its director
Elena Zhidkova as Venus in a scene from the recently canceled production of Wagner's "Tannhauser" at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Deutsche Oper am Rhein / Associated Press)

The director of the controversial new production of Wagner's "Tannhauser" that made ample use of Nazi imagery -- including swastikas on costumes and a set that featured a pseudo-gas chamber -- has expressed bafflement over the decision to cancel the staging earlier this month in Germany and said it was a form of censorship.

In an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel published this week, Burkhard Kosminski said he is "shocked and speechless and cannot understand" the decision made by leaders at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Dusseldorf, Germany, to call off all remaining performances.

"We were both put under massive pressure by the local press and the know-it-all ignorance of people," he told the newspaper. "What happened in Düsseldorf is the censorship of art. That is the actual scandal."

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Last week, leaders of the opera company announced that they were canceling all remaining stagings of "Tannhauser" and replacing them with concert performances of the opera. The opera had been scheduled to continue through June 2.

Kosminski's "Tannhauser" featured characters in Nazi uniforms and a scene in which the main character is forced to shoot members of a family. According to one report, the opera's overture is a choreographed scene in which dancers are trapped inside a transparent gas chamber.

The director said there was heckling at the debut performance earlier this month. "When I bowed during the applause, there was a chorus of boos mixed with many bravos. At the premier party I was insulted heavily," he said.

Wagner still touches nerves, 130 years after his death. The composer held anti-Semitic views and his music became a favorite of Adolf Hitler. His music is still considered taboo in Israel.

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