Newspapers around the world are reporting that the Deutsche-Oper Berlin has canceled a scheduled production of Mozart's Idomeneo for fear of offending Muslims.
Idomeneo is the story of the King of Crete who, upon returning home from the Trojan War, is shipwrecked. He vows to Neptune that if he survives, he will sacrifice the first living thing he encounters in gratitude. When he washes up on the shore, the first creature he sees is his own son, Idamante. The plot concerns his attempts to wrangle out of the pledge and the catastrophes that ensue, along with a love triangle between Idamante and Ilia, a captured Trojan princess, and Electra, well-known refugee of the House of Atreus. As Crete lies under siege by a terrible sea monster, the king confesses that he himself is to blame for the disaster, and the only solution is to sacrifice the prince. Idamante bravely submits to his fate, but in the final moments Neptune grants a reprieve, on the condition that Idomeneo step down in favor of Idamante's succession and marriage to Ilia. All ends happily (except for Electra, who goes spectacularly insane).
The opera is a masterpiece; long neglected as boring old-fashioned opera seria, it entered the standard repertory after the Metropolitan Opera first performed it in the 1980s with Luciano Pavarotti in the title role. Composed when Mozart was in his early 20s, it contains some of his very best music for the stage, including a showy Handelian da capo aria for the tenor ("Fuor del mar"), brilliant and unusual ensembles (especially "Vedro, rammingo e solo"), spectacular choral writing, and the thrilling mad scene for Electra ("O smania...D'Oreste, d'Ajace").
You can see why this is so offensive to Muslims, right?
No? Well, the concern arose because this particular production had a scene involving the severed head of the Prophet Mohammed.
The director, Hans Neuenfels, ought to be ashamed of himself. Seriously. This is a Trojan War story, taking place somewhere around 1200 BC. Mohammed lived from 570 to 632 CE. What possible relevance could Mohammed have to an episode from Greek mythology? But it's not just Mohammed: the production also features the severed heads of Jesus Christ (4 BCE - 30 CE), the Buddha (563 BCE to 483 BCE), and a few other religious figures.
You know, it's okay for art to be provocative, but there should be a valid artistic reason for it. If you want to do a provocative opera, there's many out there. If you don't like the ones that exist, find yourself a composer and make a new one that says what you want it to say. But don't desecrate a great masterpiece by dragging in irrelevant, anachronistic sacrilege, especially of a variety that will serve only to further inflame current tensions while adding absolutely nothing at all to the performance experience.
The opera house has overreacted by canceling the production. How central to the concept could the severed heads have been, given that none of these people are ever mentioned in the text or stage directions? Revise the production. If it requires a severed head, I say start with Hans Neuenfels.