The Magazine

Deutsche Oper, latest Kelo outrage, more.

Muhammad goes to the opera.

Oct 9, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 04 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Show Must Go On?

By the end of last week, it was still uncertain if the Deutsche Oper in Berlin would reschedule performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Idomeneo. The opera was originally canceled for fear of rioting--but not because of anything Mozart himself had written. In this latest production, director Hans Neuenfels features a scene including the decapitated heads of Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, and Posei don--slightly ridiculous since the opera is set in ancient Crete.

As Roger Kimball explained in the Wall Street Journal, "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. . . . How do you spell 'anachronistic balderdash'?" Kimball goes on, "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 SCRAPBOOK could not agree more. And if Mozart fans had wanted to riot, THE SCRAPBOOK would have suspended its usual law and order stance and been tempted to join them in storming the ramparts. But that was not the problem. Fearing potential reprisals from the Muslim community, and after local security officials warned of an "incalculable security risk," opera house director Kirsten Harms announced a change in the fall lineup, replacing Idomeneo with The Marriage of Figaro and La Traviata. (We would have really gotten a kick if they had replaced it with The Abduction from the Seraglio.)

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other members of the Bundestag have condemned the preemptive capitulation to intimidation as craven. At a press conference in Washington last Tuesday, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was resolutely anti-capitulation, saying "we will not accept it." According to a Frankfurter Allgemeine online poll, a solid majority of Germans also consider the move to be an act of cowardice. And they're right.

But what Frau Harms needs to ponder is that while she may have escaped the wrath of radical Muslims, this sensitivity business could quickly get out of hand--as many famous operas are anti-clerical, anti-Muslim, and even anti-French. In the aforementioned La Traviata, for instance, Violetta, a Parisian courtesan, is unable to marry the man she loves because his father is too concerned with upholding his family's reputation. She then returns to her "protector" and, after a brief reunion with her true love, dies of tuberculosis.

Are the French going to take this lying down, as it were, and accept being portrayed as hookers, snobs, and pimps? THE SCRAPBOOK fears it is only a matter of time before the French issue a complaint--if not a fatwa--and the Deutsche Oper cancels Verdi.

Another Eminent Domain Outrage

Once upon a time, local governments could take your property only when they needed it for some public use. Then (thanks to the Supreme Court's Kelo decision) they were allowed to take your property because some other private party (i.e., a developer) promised to generate more tax revenues with it. Can they now take it just because they don't like the look of it? That's what the Washington state supreme court must decide.

Seven sisters in Burien, Washington--the Strobel sisters--own a small parcel that they lease to a successful local diner, Meal Makers. The city of Burien is undertaking a redevelopment nearby with upscale condominiums, shops, restaurants, and office space in what they call their Town Square (you can see the plans at www.burientownsquare.com). The plan doesn't require the use of the land on which the diner sits, but the diner doesn't quite fit the city fathers' vision of what "upscale" should look like.

So the City of Burien ginned up a plan to put a road through the Strobel sisters' property, allowing it to condemn the diner. The Institute for Justice, which is representing the Strobels, reports that the city manager told his planning staff to "make damn sure" that the new road went through the diner. When the staff drew up a plan that only sideswiped the property, he sent them back to the drawing board.

The Strobels took the city to court, where the judge found that the planned road "could have been easily accomplished without affecting" the Strobels. He nonetheless found for the city. An appeals court upheld his ruling. The Strobels now hope for relief from the state supreme court.

CBS 'News':
the Couric Era

CBS News anchor Katie Couric interviews Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, September 24, 2006:

COURIC: When she defends her position, this former Stanford professor can at times sound like she's lecturing a class. . . . Is it really priority number one, in terms of philosophically and pragmatically, for the United States to be spreading democracy around the world?

RICE: Well, first of all, the United States is not spreading democracy. The United States is standing with those who want a democratic future. . . . What's wrong with assistance so that people can have their full and complete right to the very liberties and freedoms that we enjoy?

COURIC: To quote my daughter, 'Who made us the boss of them?'

Well--seems to us that when the interviewer at times sounds like she's channeling a 10-year-old, the interviewee can be forgiven for sounding like she's lecturing a class.

Jewish Ancestors
in the Closet

A fascinating historical footnote to the story of Sen. George Allen's Jewish forebears appeared last week in Washington Jewish Week. Rafael Medoff reports on the discovery by Time magazine in 1939 that Secretary of State Cordell Hull's "entry in Who's Who wrongly stated that his wife's last name was Whitney, which was her married name from her first marriage." Hull's wife, Frances Witz, was the daughter of a Jewish immigrant from Austria--a fact he feared would doom his presidential hopes. Hull's boss, FDR, apparently agreed.

Writes Medoff: "The president told Sen. Burton Wheeler (D-Mont.) in August 1939 . . . [that] Mrs. Hull's Jewishness 'would be raised' by [Hull's] opponents. FDR added: 'Mrs. Hull is about one quarter Jewish. You and I, Burt, are old English and Dutch stock. . . . We know there is no Jewish blood in our veins, but a lot of these people do not know whether there is Jewish blood in their veins or not.'"

The political speculation was mooted, of course, by Roosevelt's decision to run for a third term. Hull served as secretary of state until 1944, and received a Nobel Peace Prize the following year.

Annals of Prisoner Abuse

"She was abused by guards who kept lights on in her cell until she would sign an autograph."

--from the obituary of Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino, aka "Tokyo Rose," Washington Post, September 28

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"Maybe I am so sick of self-importance because I am so given to it . . . "

--Leon Wieseltier,

New Republic, October 9, 2006