Opera to mark Hitler's birthday met with chorus of disapproval

Berlin opera house forced to reschedule Wagner work that inspired Nazi leader

Berlin

Berlin's biggest opera house, the Deutsche Oper, has been forced to backtrack on plans to stage a re-launched version of Adolf Hitler's favourite Wagner opera on the Nazi leader's birthday.

Hitler, who as a young man became fanatical about Richard Wagner's works, said the composer's 1842 production, Rienzi, was his all-time favourite and an inspiration for his politics. It tells the story of Cola di Rienzi, a medieval Italian folk hero who leads a people's uprising against the nobility.

The Nazi leader is said to have liked the work so much that he asked for a manuscript of the production to be given to him on his 50th birthday. Historians say Hitler had the document with him when he committed suicide in his Berlin bunker in 1945.

The Deutsche Oper is Germany's second-largest opera house. It was bombed during the Second World War but later rebuilt. During the Third Reich it functioned as a bastion of Nazi culture and was used for opulent productions overseen by Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.

But yesterday it emerged that not only had the Deutsche Oper's current director, Christoph Seuferle, planned a re-launch of Rienzi, but he had also programmed the premiere for 20 April – Hitler's birthday.

Mr Seuferle was reported to have pencilled in the date for the opening performance months in advance. The event is intended as part of celebrations marking the opera house's 100th year of existence. But as Die Welt newspaper remarked in an editorial: "Hitler's opera staged in Goebbels' opera house during its anniversary year on the Führer's birthday: bad idea."

Mr Seuferle has since been obliged to revise his plans following complaints from his staff. The Deutsche Oper has now agreed to stage the premiere of Rienzi a day later, on 21 April.

A statement issued by the Deutsche Oper explained: "Staff have stated during in-house discussions that for personal reasons they find holding the premiere of this opera on this evening to be difficult or impossible."

The Deutsche Oper was at the centre of a row in 2006 over a planned production of Mozart's Idomeneo which ended with a scene in which the severed head of the prophet Mohammed was displayed on stage.

Politicians in Berlin insisted on the withdrawal of the production because of fears of attacks by Islamic extremists. But after a furious debate, the opera was staged in full two months later.

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