BERLIN -- A Nazi-themed production of the Wagner opera "Tannhauser" that featured scenes of gas chambers and the execution of a family has been canceled in Germany after some audience members had to receive medical treatment for shock.
The Deutsche Oper am Rhein, a leading German opera house that performs in Duesseldorf, said in a statement that it could not justify artistic work with such an "extreme impact." It said it had asked director Burkhard Kosminski to tone down scenes but that he had refused.
From Thursday onward, the opera was to be performed solely as a piece of music, without the staging, the opera house said.
During the opera's opening Saturday evening, naked performers could be seen falling to the floor in glass cubes filled with white fog. One scene showed a family having their heads shaved and then being shot. The character of Venus, goddess of love, was depicted in a Nazi uniform and accompanied by SS thugs, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel. Audience members booed, German media reports said.
The original staging of the Wagner opera is set in the Middle Ages and features a singing contest at a German castle. German media reports said Kosminski wanted to address Wagner's anti-Semitism and influence on Nazi ideology.
In its statement, the opera house management said it was aware that the production would "arouse controversy."
"We are responding to the fact that some scenes, especially the shooting scene depicted very realistically, have caused such physical and psychological stress that some audience members have had to receive medical treatment," it said. "After considering all the arguments, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot justify our artistic work having such an extreme impact.
"In intensive discussions with the director Burkhard C. Kosminski we have considered the possibility of changing individual scenes. This he refuses to do for artistic reasons. Of course, we have to respect the director's artistic freedom."
[Updated, 6:38 a.m. PDT May 9: Kosminski said he was "shocked" by the decision to cancel the production. "I presented my concept 10 months ago and explained what I was going to do. During the rehearsals, I worked with great transparency," he told the Westdeutsche Zeitung, a local newspaper. "I'm not a controversialist. I have staged more than 50 productions."]
Richard Wagner, who died in 1883, is associated with Nazism because he was one of Adolf Hitler's favorite composers. He is also regarded as an anti-Semite, particularly because of his controversial essay "Judaism in Music," which attacked two composers of Jewish origin. Although some of his works have been broadcast and performed in Israel, his operas have never been staged there.
[For the Record, 1:20 p.m. May 9: A previous version of this post misspelled "Tannhauser."]