September 28, 2006

"Our avant-gardist artistic establishment... prefers to exercise its anti-bourgeois animus within the coddled purlieus of bourgeois security."

Brilliant New Criterion editor Roger Kimball writes about the horrendous Hans Neuenfels production of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo":
Mr. Neuenfels's version is Modern German--i.e., gratuitously offensive. It is more Neuenfels than Mozart. Instead of appearing as the harbinger of peace, Idomeneo ends the opera parading the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad. How do you spell "anachronistic balderdash"?

Poor Mozart. Mr. Neuenfels is one of those directors more interested in nurturing his own pathologies than in offering a faithful presentation of the geniuses with whose work he has been entrusted.
The production -- which has already been seen, back in 2003 -- seems to be a desecration of Mozart and quite hostile to three religions -- four if anyone's still into Poseidon -- but Deutsche Oper has cancelled the production specifically out of concern for how it will affect Muslims.
There is a certain irony in all this. Our avant-gardist artistic establishment preens itself on being "transgressive," "challenging," "provocative," etc. But it prefers to exercise its anti-bourgeois animus within the coddled purlieus of bourgeois security. It has discovered that there is a big difference between exhibiting photographs of Christ on the cross in a bottle of urine or Madonna having herself "crucified" on her current concert tour and poking fun at Muhammad. The former earns you the delicious obloquy of the Catholic establishment while shoring up your credentials as a brave artistic and moral pioneer. The latter sends murderous hordes into the streets looking for something, or someone, to destroy.

There are plenty of good reasons to refrain from gratuitously insulting other people's religions. For one thing, it is bad manners. One should respect what is respectable in the habits, mores and beliefs of other people.

But this does not mean that we should allow ourselves to be blackmailed by militant fanatics who shelter under the authority of religion and employ the freedoms of Western democracy to attack and undermine those very freedoms.
This is a complex problem. Neuenfels's production takes the easy faux-daring route of "Piss Christ" and the Madonna crucifixion, but at least he had the nerve to hit all religions equality, and not to single out one religion. Perhaps he did that because it wouldn't have made any sense to go after the conventional target of Christianity when it's an opera about the Trojan War. It doesn't make all that much sense to drag Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad into that setting either, but bringing them all in to join their super best friend Poseidon made some kind of crazy sense.

Now that some Muslims have made it painfully obvious that religion-taunting is not an easy game anymore, abandoning it expresses fear, not respect for religion. And continuing to disrespect the religions that don't lash back only highlights that cowardice. Poor transgressive rebel artists! How are they to shock the middle class anymore?

47 comments:

Meade said...

Actually, I think Buddhists might have found it humorous... as in, "if you meet the Buddha on the road to a Mozart opera..."

George said...

I coddled my purlieu, and it turned out just fine.

After letting it cool, I baked it at 350 for 45 minutes, and when I served it to my family, they didn't notice any Islamic terrorism at all.

tjl said...

Operagoers have had to suffer through these "transgressive" productions for over a decade. I recall a staging of Verdi's "Macbeth" in which the Witches wore chartreuse nurse's uniforms and Lady M.'s sleepwalking scene was done on a 60s-style orange vinyl settee.

To be fair to the directors, the production style is not solely geared to shocking the bourgeois. The staple opera repertory consists of 18th and 19th century pieces which are done over and over again. Directors have to rack their brains to come up with new and interesting takes.

But it's outrageous that even the most witless Eurotrash production should be cancelled for the reasons given here.

The Drill SGT said...

While I like my politics moderate, I like my fine arts conservative.

I'm part of that dull mainstream that likes Shakespeare w/o new scenes added, and prefers Eine Kleine Nacht Musik to avant garde clanging and shrieks. Oh, and who thinks Janis Joplin was a lot better than Madonna.

I know it doesn't allow for a demonstration of their full "artistic" talents, but companies would be better off trying to faithfully perform a classic, than to "reinterpret" it.


As for the politics of this, I would not have gone to this trash, I would not have supported the creation of that trash, but having scheduled it, I would resist weakening freedom of speech by canceling it.

Ron said...

That somebody in Louisana pissed off Poseidon last year is more apparent then all the 'Second Coming' balderdash that's shoveled at us!

Or maybe Poseidon just wanted a new FEMA director!

Susan said...

Like brave Kenye West dressed as Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone a few months back. As Glenn Reynolds said at the time "If Kanye West had balls, he'd pose as Mohammed, instead of Jesus. But he doesn't. Efforts to be controversial have become so predictable. Yawn."

Oh, and ron: LOL.

David said...
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David said...

Exactly.

Madonna on a cross? Yawn.

Wake me when she rises above stage on a giant crescent, wearing a midriff-baring, bustier-sporting burqa.

Fenrisulven said...

As Glenn Reynolds said at the time "If Kanye West had balls, he'd pose as Mohammed, instead of Jesus. But he doesn't. Efforts to be controversial have become so predictable. Yawn."

Sorkin too [Studio 60]. Last night he made a "brave" statement about charging a "cowards fee" to all the advertisers who wanted back in after fleeing the show because of the ignorant intolerant redneck evangelicals protesters [re the "crazy Christian" skit, not RL].

The episode took cheap shots at Christians under the guise of protecting free speech. But we know Sorkin will never write an episode that mocks Islam. They would fold tents before the first Molotov was tossed. So its not that Sorkins's a defender of free speech, he's just anti-christian. How very "brave".

And you would think that in an episode that spotlights religion vs art, the name Theo Van Gogh would have cropped up.

Who knew that all this civil disobedience was such a waste of time? All you need is a Molotov cocktail.

kcom said...

Those artistic avant-gardist types are exhibiting the classic behavior pattern of a bully. They exult in picking on people who can't or won't fight back but when confronted with someone who might actually respond to their taunting, suddenly they go quiet. The only question is why they think they are brave in doing so? It's an act of bravery to stand up to the people who would do you harm, it's not an act of bravery standing up to the people protecting you from harm.

David Blue said...

"The production -- which has already been seen, back in 2003 -- seems to be a desecration of Mozart and quite hostile to three religions -- four if anyone's still into Poseidon -- but Deutsche Oper has cancelled the production specifically out of concern for how it will affect Muslims."

Miniscule numbers of people are still (or rather again) into Poseidon. All of them that I know of have noticed that the rest of the world has moved on, and they don't expect it to go out of its way to coddle them. (This is the most attractive quality of modern pagans.) On the good side, if you are into Poseidon and his super best friends :) nobody bothers going out of their way to offend you.

David Blue said...

I think the decision to can the opera was a reasonable one.

It probably had little artistic merit anyway. The achievements of progressive art have been puny.

And, opera singers are not warriors, or not alone. It's not the responsibility of a lot of theatre folk to be brave on behalf of a cowardly society.

It people want brave artists like Theo Van Gogh, they have to stand up for them, defend them and smash those who are a menace to them. It's not good enough to leave them alone and open to any threat, and then complain that they are ducking the challenge when in fact you are.

If society as a whole was "forming square" against militant Islam, it might be fair to say that artists should play their part and take their chances along with everybody else. But that's not the deal.

Tim said...

Unsurprising. There is very little the Left, artistic or not, will not concede to the militant Islamic fascists to be "safe." Over time even the Left might recognize the danger their reflexive habit produces, but probably too late to make them safe.

Whitehall said...

Mr. Blue raises a good point - we're not all together yet.

But artists are supposed to be the vanguard, the cultural leaders. When they summons the courage to be that again, to live up to their claims, then we will respect them again and follow them.

When they do little but curl up in the fetal position when facing physical and moral threat while cursing the breast that feeds them, they will be ignored or reviled.

Just like MSM.

Richard Dolan said...

With all this dumping on the production, does anyone know whether the singers were any good? Idomeneo is hard to cast, and harder to sign. I'd sit through a lot of Eurotrash production nonsense if the singers and the conductor were any good. (Anyone who enjoys Wagner has been doing that for years.)

To me, the only interesting aspect of this story is that the production was cancelled for all the wrong reasons. And without even a direct threat from the usual Islamocrazies. Instead, it was entirely a German exercise in self censorship -- the fear and intimidation are now all internalized, and can work their wonderful magic on their own, without further external stimulus.

Ann asks how the "[p]oor transgressive rebel artists [can still] shock the middle class anymore?" Well, this demonstration of the extent to which the self-regarding Western artistic avant garde has neutered itself is a bit shocking. Normally, given their interest in image for its own sake, you would think they might have disguised that reality a bit better. It's also a pretty pathetic contrast to the Dutch cartoonists, to boot.

RogerA said...

Why does some doofus artist feel he/she can fool around with a Mozart opera? Says more about the ego of the alleged artist than the person's ability. But like Drill SGT, I am conservative about fine arts as well and cringed when the swingle singers did Bach a while back (OK--quite a while back)

Fenrisulven said...

If society as a whole was "forming square" against militant Islam, it might be fair to say that artists should play their part and take their chances along with everybody else. But that's not the deal.

Maybe, but then they shouldn't boast about speaking truth to power. They really don't beleive in the things they lecture us about. Not when it matters. They should be considered frauds.

Our media did the same with the Muhammad cartoons.

Ixman said...

Exactly! I was bitching on this about Everclear and Madonna.

Artists like these will - for a buck - absolutely wipe their backsides with anything that people hold sacred, provided of course that they'll suffer no real danger.

Drew W said...

Richard Dolan: Idomeneo is hard to cast, and harder to sign.

But even if they did manage to sign the entire opera, wouldn't that just be viewed as a provocation by deaf Muslim extremists?

You just can't win with some people.

charlotte said...

Time to instead stage Mozart's Requiem upon the death of Euro-secular bravado:

"Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?"

"What shall a wretch like me say?
Who shall intercede for me,
when the just ones need mercy?"

Jerub-Baal said...

Fenrisulven, fraud is the blood and breath of the arts. I am a painter, and my training was originally in the Theatre Arts in the late '70s and early '80s. Even then, the leftist hegemony over the arts was amazing. The real scarlet letters were branded on those who did not subscribe to the group-think.

It has only gotten worse. For as long as the intelligencia worship the likes of chocolate covered Karen Finley and Andres Serrano, they will continue to have less and less to do with real civilization.

Ashish Hanwadikar said...

We fear Islamists even while living under the protection of powerful western law-and-order system. So,
Don't try free speech at home.

ed said...

Hmmm.

Hey don't look at me! I worship Odin. And you can bet if some smarmy opera director even thinks about including Odin in something like this, at least without a signature horned-helmet wearing aria, us berserkers would be on them like a flash.

Dunno about the headchopping thing anymore but nuggies would be an absolute definite! With a very special possibility of a wedgie thrown in for good measure!

Sure the definition of berserker has changed somewhat but that doesn't mean it's any less painful for the victim. Psychologically that is.

Paul Zrimsek said...

All I ask you to consider is the depths to which Poseidon-worship has sunk man.

Matt said...

We're talking low stakes poker here.

I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry visits a Catholic priest to bemoan another comedian's questionable conversion to Judaism. ("'He converted to Judaism purely for the jokes' … 'And this offends you, as a Jew?' … 'No. It offends me as a comedian.'")

Madonna's crucifiction schtick smacks more of unintended self-parody than serious provocation. If she really wants to break new ground she might try inserting a bacon bookmark into a copy of the Koran in front of a live audience in Iran.

Kirk Parker said...

Fenrisulven,

"They should be considered frauds."

You think they aren't already, by anyone with even half a grain of sense? And Jerub-Baal, I definitely mean to exclude the intelligentsia from the ranks of the clueful.

charlotte said...

All I ask you to consider is the depths to which Poseidon-worship has sunk man.

Paul, the tide has turned with Poseidon worship. The worry now is Black Rock reverence which is impacting our civilization in meteoric fashion.

knoxgirl said...

The only question is why they think they are brave in doing so?

They have a whole community of people reinforcing the idea that it is, and patting them on the back for it. The media does it, other "artists" do it, and certainly many on the left still think it's edgy to insult the religions without terrorist wings.

Cat said...

I agree with Matt.

Madonna's latest is, unbeknownst to her, self-parody. It reminds me of Julie Brown' lampooning Madonna's Truth or Dare movie. In Julie's "Dare to be Truthful," Madonna opens the show by rising from beneath the stage on a giant penis. That's what I think of every time she does something "outrageous" in her show.

Theo Boehm said...

Richard Dolan is exactly right about Idomeneo and Wagner. I have found myself averting my eyes in many modern opera productions. But good music can transcend the excesses of the idiots who often preside over the theatre. With good singing and a solid orchestra, it's still hard to completely ruin Wagner.

It's also hard to ruin Mozart, but in different ways. Mozart is obviously more fragile but also subtle. His music is rather hard to perform, and if you don't do it right, it's glaringly obvious. That puts constraints on the worst excesses. I don't know anything about this production, but given that Idomeneo is difficult to bring off, and, in my opinion, the least satisfactory of Mozart's "great" operas, it's probably no great loss that it was cancelled.

It is, of course, a terrible loss to artistic freedom, as commenters have noted. Freedom of expression is one of the core values of Western civilization, and has been, to one degree or another, for a long time. Mozart himself certainly pushed the envelope with Figaro. And in even more difficult territory, Don Giovanni deals with some of the deepest and most troublesome themes ever done in the theatre. In my opinion, there is more to be learned about rape from Don Giovanni than a bookshelf of feminist tracts.

Mozart did these difficult things not by being in the faces of the audience in the modern manner, but by creating art that respected most of the social conventions of the day. But behind the fancy-dress facade there was content of the deepest kind. Tension between the manner and the content is often integral to great art. To attempt to make the expression match an idea of the meaning is to deflate the art utterly.

Offending bourgeois social convention became more and more fashionable as the 19th century drew to a close, culminating in the famous 1913 production of Stravinsky's Sacre du printemps in Paris. Speaking of artistic courage, eveyone expected trouble, but Pierre Monteaux stood to his podium, and the musicians played, and the dancers danced while the theatre erupted. But it was a riot in the droll French manner ("un docteur!...deux doctuers!!....un dentist!"). The reason modern performers flee is that the riots they expect will not be so amusing.

Jim said...

Well, this demonstration of the extent to which the self-regarding Western artistic avant garde has neutered itself is a bit shocking.

PErhaps it's time to reconsider the use of the term "avant-garde" to describe them.

"Avant-garde" translates roughly to "front-guard", analogous to the tip of a spear. This concept implies several things -- that those bearing the label are trailblazers, out in front of everyone else (as judged by reference to whatever direction is conidered "forward") -- and that they are the part that hits resistance first, and bears the brunt of it.

I don't think any of that applies to what passes for "avant-garde" anymore. But then again, "liberalism" does not properly apply to what passes under that term these days either.

charlotte said...

...certainly many on the left still think it's edgy to insult the religions without terrorist wings.

knoxgirl,

Even more dispiriting is that they've convinced themselves that by not insulting Islam as they do Christianity or Judaism, or by not critiquing primitive Islamism as anathema to western values, they're being counter-culture and daring- not cowardly. They pretend/ believe their silence on terrorism and oppressive Islamist culture is to embolden the Others and court danger for good cause, because we deserve it, because change is always interesting, and because exotic surreality is what art is all about. Today's artists are as edgy and exciting as the man who befriended the bears and got himself and his girlfriend served up as a yummy repast: Timothy Treadwell.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Catherine, if it doesn't bother you that a bunch of trident-waving yahoos are taking all the science out of our oceanography textbooks then I don't know what to tell you.

PatCA said...

Fen,
You are right about Sorkin and the other Hollow Men of Hollywood. From Gilmore Girls to Studio 60, TV and movies are rife with jabs at Christians, Bush (by name), and America as their world view admits of no cause of conflict other than our tradition. Sad, boring Studio 60 proves their desperation to avoid the obvious threat to freedom which fellow artist Theo Van Gogh knew only too well.

I watch Brothers and Sisters, if only because I await with morbid fascination the conservative sister's first radio broadcast. It ought to be a corker.

charlotte said...

Re "a bunch of trident-waving yahoos":

Had no idea they were still making waves, Paul. I need to stay more current.

Fenrisulven said...

Hey don't look at me! I worship Odin. And you can bet if some smarmy opera director even thinks about including Odin in something like this, at least without a signature horned-helmet wearing aria, us berserkers would be on them like a flash.

Says you. Is that pansy Tyr still nursing his stump?

;) sry, couldn't resist.

kcom said...
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kcom said...

"Had no idea they were still making waves, Paul. I need to stay more current."

Just don't let it put you into a depression, Catherine. The doldrums can be bad this time of year.

ignacio said...

In Europe, or certainly in European arts circles, which overlap a great deal with New York, they still believe -- or wish to believe, or pretend -- that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are powerful figures whom Bush is in thrall to.....they haven't noticed that the "Moral Majority" has lost its sway.

kcom said...

They also haven't noticed that the Moral Majority hasn't sawn anyone's head off lately.

AlaskaJack said...

Can transgressive artists still shock the middle class? I don't think so. The middle class is frankly bored with their "creative" self-expression and has come to view them as dysfunctional personalities much like those lost and pathetic creatures who inhabited Andy Warhol's Factory.

No, transgressive artists are going to have to find a new social class to shock. And the only real target out there now is the left wing verbal class. Here's where the future of transgressive art lies.

The Drill SGT said...

Jack,
No, transgressive artists are going to have to find a new social class to shock.


I assume you mean tame social classes that won't cut your head off.

Cuz it's pretty easy to shock 1.5 billion Muslims with lot's of message laden artistic activities.

It would be educational for all parties, artists, Muslims and the media.

tjl said...

"transgressive artists are going to have to find a new social class to shock."

Why not let that new social class be intolerant Muslims and their enablers on the Left? After a century of nonstop "transgressive" art with Christianity as its target, the result is that nobody gives it a thought. With lots and lots of practice, Muslims may become almost as anesthetized. Unfortunately there may be quite a body count before we reach that point.

Equally deserving the "transgressive" treatment are academic leftists. They're not known for their rollicking sense of give and take when the joke's at their expense.

charlotte said...

Just don't let it put you into a depression, Catherine. The doldrums can be bad this time of year.

Thanks, kcom, perhaps surfing the internet will help on those low pressure days. But it's not enough to have a mari-time without any porpoise, is it?

vbspurs said...

Poor Mozart. Mr. Neuenfels is one of those directors more interested in nurturing his own pathologies than in offering a faithful presentation of the geniuses with whose work he has been entrusted.

Germans make an absolute fetish of challenging their past (see Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's "Hitler: A Film From Germany", not to mention his own operatic interpretations), and being as outré as humanly possible, the better to disinfect themselves from National Socialism.

TJL wrote:

Operagoers have had to suffer through these "transgressive" productions for over a decade. I recall a staging of Verdi's "Macbeth" in which the Witches wore chartreuse nurse's uniforms and Lady M.'s sleepwalking scene was done on a 60s-style orange vinyl settee.

Heh.

As I mentioned in my own blogpiece about the topic, I once attended a showing of Gerald Thomas' (a British-Brazilian opera director) take on The Flying Dutchman, when I was just a kid, spending the summer in Rio de Janeiro.

His "vision", like Mr. Neuenfels, consisted of making the Dutchman characters dress up as Nazis, and infusing the whole production with a kind of Wagnerian Aryan hommage, obviously to mock Wagner's precursive Nazism.

Thanks to XWL, for making me aware of the Althouse take on this brouhaha!

Cheers,
Victoria

knoxgirl said...

Holy crap, it's Victoria!

Pola said...

" (...)he had the nerve to hit all religions equality (...)" ©
--
How come? I don't see Moses' severed head in the pack. And consider that Jesus is an acknowledged Prophet in Islam. That sums up to a quite qualified offense. Tss tss!