Intimations of antisemitism in Graham Vick's new Rossini production

Intimations of antisemitism in Graham Vick's new Rossini production


norman lebrecht

August 20, 2011

A friend who saw the new Rossini Festival production in Pesaro stood, for the first time in his life in the middle of an opera, and booed.

The production of Mose in Egitto by the British director Graham Vick featured several elements that he (and I) find deeply offensive.

Moses is presented as a Bin Laden-type fanatic, the Jews are Kalashnikov-toting terrorists and – most insensitive of all, while the Egyptian first-born are killed by clouds of gas, the Jews walk around in masks.

Not having seen the production myself I cannot make further comment. However, any conjunction of gas and Jews is a terrible stereotype… a hint of the very worst kind of Holocaust caricature or denial. Leading Italian Jews have called it ‘a crude provocation’.


If you saw the show, please comment below. Graham, send me your justification and I will publish it.




  • I have not seen the production. Two Italian friends (intellectual, cultured, radical chic?, and I think outside the Pinter circle they would be called ‘champagne socialists’ ) have seen it and liked it very much. I have read the reviews (Italian) an find the whole concept abhorrent. I shouldn’t say anything further because I have no right, and these words would be summarily thrown out of court, but I’m very glad that you are raising the topic. I like Vick, I admire his work, but this seems to be riding a wave: let’s get the press talking about us, cause a bit of a stir, and damn the consequences!

  • Tali C. says:

    I saw the production yesterday. Generally speaking, it is a bit confused and definitely over-structured and if you are actually Israeli or from the middle-east it takes a bit of time to understand who’s who (the women, for example, are all dressed like Arab women). If one wants to take things literally, there are certainly reasons to be upset both as a Jew and a Israeli, but it seemed quite off the mark since the production actually addressed more universal questions about the place of religion and the relationship between self assertion and violence. My feeling is that Vick chose the world’s pet-conflict because this way it was probably understood by most people present – he certainly had no comment about it specifically or any particular insight.That said, it is a production of great impact very mich helped by the marvelous reading of Roberto Abbado and a genius score.

  • Gabriel says:

    I have not seen this production, nor will I for many reason.
    What has happened in opera (which is hastening it’s death) is that audiences have forgotten that operas were created to be about (in order): 1. The Singing/Singers/Music. 2. The Story/Plot. 3. The Staging/Costumes. As audiences have slowly begun to forget/not hear truly great singing anymore, imaginative and tenacious stage directors have filled the void, often with twisted and intentionally provocative ideas, without regard to the music, libretto, plot, or original intentions (forget about tradition here). Unfortunately, many audiences have become so ignorant, and the opera company’s boards of directors uneducated, that spectacle and controversy trump art. every time. A apt comparison can be made with Stanley Kubrick’s use of Beethoven’s 9th in “A Clockwork Orange”. Beethoven’s work of idealist brotherhood is purposely set in juxtaposition to Alex’s sadistic narcissism. What is the purpose of Graham Vick’s fanciful and hallucinatory transformation of Moses from reluctant messenger of freedom to Bin Laden stereotype? Beyond the historical/biblical narrative of Moses’ royal upbringing and exile from Egypt as a young man, the two stories diverge in opposite directions. Unfortunately, most opera audiences I know are less intellectually curious and more the media junkies. Vick would have done better hinting at his hypotheses/political ideologies rather than slapping us with it. In this regard, his work is more like junk food: initially riveting to our taste buds, but ultimately detrimental to the corpus as a whole. Regrettable.

  • Although this opera is about the Exodus not the war with Canaan, if you are going to Identify being Jewish with Moses and his militarism, then I think you have a problem. This then again leaves Joseph to be an unrealistic dreamer because he didn’t take part in such and showed there’s a different way. Just because Moses is in the opera doesn’t mean it’s about being Jewish, to me. In many ways this remains a very accurate political statement about what the Israel military (not the Jews the Israel military) does every day in Palestine. Something you don’t hear about because corporate media doesn’t allow the truth to come out when it’s not in the politically correct mode of supporting the occupation of Palestine, as if it’s not an occupation. No they aren’t using gas, just road bocks and sanctions that turn an occupied territory into another kind of concentration camp. Or would the use of phosphorus bombs in the latest invasion of the occupied territory be considered gasing? I would think that maybe bringing out the idea of fanaticism and militarism challenges anyone’s behavior of such whether it’s Moses, the Pharoah, Bin Laden, a Palestinian responding with violence, George Bush, Tony Blair or even Obama continuing these wars. And yes the comparison with Bin Laden has its problems. Bin Laden stopped working for the CIA and never “won” his war. Moses on the other hand did “win” but never stepped into the promised land himself as God told him not to. And if someone wanted to depict Mohamed with his militarism the same way that should be OK as well. All this war mongering needs to stop.

  • Ilphy says:

    I saw the production on Saturday and while I was on the point of booing myself, this was not down to a sense of anti-semitism being shown in the production but the fact that it was dramatically unconvincing and just a bad production. It seems in the comments above that there is some confusion between being anti-semitic and the political arguments between Israel/Palestine. While I did not enjoy the production, the main messge that seemed given in the Act 3 finale, was the idea of a self-perpetuating circle of vengeance: although the Hebrews escape at the end of the opera during the storm music, a young Egyptian is left onstage to become the next generation of suicide bombers in retaliation.

    In regards the gas attacks displayed, to be perfectly honest it was unclear who was Egyptian and who was Hebrew most of the time due to the dreadful dramaturgy. To read into this a revisionist history of the horrors of the holocaust and further evidence of anti-semitism smacks of middle-class preciousness: are we saying that nobody else in the 20th/21st century has used gas attacks in war or that references to these types of cowardly attacks should be forbidden in case somebody is offended? The production just grasps (very crudely) at an ongoing conflict in a similar geographic area in order to make it ‘relevant’ (further eye-rolling from me!) and to be provocative, challenging our ideas of what is contained in the biblical story.

    To sum it up, it wasn’t offensive just over-produced, which many productions over the last 9 years I’ve attended ROF have tended to be, and preachy: I go to the theatre to be entertained, not receive a sermon. At some point ROF needs to get back to showing a bit of respect for the music of the composer that they are trying to champion.

  • Sofiya says:

    I was their on Aug. 11, and booed for the first time in my life .
    I left after Act I. The production is antisemitic, outrageous, and offencive.
    Rossini must’ve turned in his grave! How ROF could approve it?
    It is not fair neither for Rossini nor for the audience.

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