Catcalls mark debate over Mozart opera canceled over fears about security

Police and culture officials interrupted occasionally by heckling from the audience on Tuesday debated a Berlin opera company's decision to cancel performances of a Mozart opera out of fear one of its scenes could provoke violence.

Kirsten Harms, managing director of Deutsche Oper, defended her decision to drop "Idomeneo" after a vague warning from police that a scene featuring the severed heads of Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha could cause trouble.

She hinted that with the right security guarantees the opera might be restaged, adding that she was put in a difficult position after the controversy over caricatures of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper ignited outrage in the Muslim world.

Harms stressed that the production remained part of the opera's repertoire although all four performances planned for November had been dropped.

"It was clear after the caricatures dispute that this would be an important matter ... but at no time after this call did we contemplate canceling the opera," she said.

"What would have happened if something had happened and we had ignored these indications," she said. "That would also justifiably have led to an occasion for indignation."

The cancellation of the performances touched off widespread criticism that the decision represented a failure to defend freedom of speech. Other opera companies have suggested they might be willing to take up the canceled production.

The presentation by Berlin's top security official, Erhart Koerting, was interrupted by heckling from the audience. "Go ahead and insult me," Koerting said. "Being insulted goes with my job."

He said that the opera should be brought back, reports AP.

"We should say out of our understanding of ourselves that Idomeneo should be staged again."

The severed heads were an addition by director Hans Neuenfels to the 225-year-old opera, which was last performed by the Deutsche Oper in 2004.