Total disgust: Israel Opera to stage Nazi epic

Total disgust: Israel Opera to stage Nazi epic


norman lebrecht

February 03, 2015

We have recoiled before at the annual junket by Israel Opera to Masada, a desert mountaintop where defeated Jewish warriors in the first century chose martyrdom rather than Roman enslavement.

traviata masada


It is regarded by many Jews as a holy burial site, unfit for public entertainment.

The Israel Opera has performed at the foot of the mountain for the past four years – insensitively, in our view.

Today it has announced a staging of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, Nazi Germany’s first musical masterpiece, a work riddled with pagan mythology and moral nihilism – ”the kind of clear, stormy, and yet always disciplined music that our time requires’, according to Josef Goebbels.

It is perfectly legitimate for Orff’s work to be performed in Israel. But not at Masada, a massacre site reminiscent of Nazi violations.

The Israel Opera has a cloth ear for audience and artist sensitivities. It does not respond to reasoned objection.

So now is the time to make your protest known.

Share this post if you agree that Masada is the last place to hear Nazi rhythms.



  • Julian Rowlands says:

    I don’t follow the logic. Carmina Burana can be played in Israel, but not at Masada? Isn’t Masada actually a very appropriate venue for this work? Certainly not a cause for outrage. If members of the Israeli public are prepared to buy tickets to see the show in this venue then it is clearly appropriate as far as they are concerned. Its a silly, bumptious piece in my opinion but more associated with horror films these days than with the Nazis.

  • Jaypee says:

    I don’t get it: Carl Orff who collaborated with the nazis can be played in Israel but Richard Wagner who died fifty years before Hitler took power still can’t?

    • avi says:

      Among others, The dying generation of the survivors have a vivid memory of Wagner’s Music, After all, Wagner’s music was played in the camps, for many purposes indeed- none of them, though, are pleasant ones.

      By the way, you could play Wagner in Israel, and it was played before…

  • Graeme Hall says:

    Strange. I thought this was the same blog that (quite rightly) hosted many criticisms of the Klinghoffer protests. Obviously that must have been a very different website.

  • CDH says:

    Isn’t this the same Opera group that refused to observe a minute’s silence for the French victims a few weeks ago, despite having a French conductor? They seem a little generally ham-fisted, to use a tin ear metaphor.

  • Paul Lanfear says:

    Nazi rhythms? More like a rip-off of Stravinsky’s “Les Noces”

    • Brian says:

      And Stravinsky’s own schmoozing and toadying to both the Nazi and Italian Fascist regimes is pretty disgraceful.

  • Gary says:

    Why do people despise Orff, but venerate Furtwangler? Is one Nazi collaborator better than another?. And why?

    • James says:

      Oskar Shindler was a Nazi collaborator of the first order, but apparently that wasnt the entire story. Obviously, there were worse things to have been.

    • Anon says:

      What should Furtwängler have done in your opinion?
      Leave his orchestra so some real Nazi schmuck could take over?

      It is important to differentiate. Karl Böhm for instance was a real benefactor of the Nazi regime. Furtwängler was inseparable from his beloved culture and didn’t want to go into exile.

  • Malcolm Miller says:

    I disagree: ‘Great’ art needs to challenge the status quo: Orff at Masada seems to be doing just that… A site of destruction becomes a site of creation. Is La Traviata frivolous? surely not! Whether to perform Orff? Can great art be produced by morally suspect artists – that is the perennial question. Each case on its merits: in Israel, Richard Strauss has been performed since the 1990s, with the understanding of the particular context of his ‘collaboration’. Orff was not a Nazi party member; the piece dates from 34-5 based on earlier research; but there is still a paradox. The power of the music derives from its innovation, a blend of post-Stravinskiesque rhythmic ‘Primitivism’ combined with Modernist ‘machinist’ aesthetic and pre-tonal/modal idiom. That it was admired by the Nazis should not negate the music’s value (they also liked Beethoven and Lehar). Wagner is another issue: the extent of the influence of Wagner’s music dramas and ideas on Nazi ideology needs to be borne in mind.

    A performance of Orff at Masada has potential to raise lots of questions about historical sources and attitudes, as well as to offer a stirring musical and multi media event.

    What is equally newsworthy in my opinion is Israel Opera’s premiering of two new operas by Israeli composers: one by Haim Permont (based on Agnon) – Permont composed ‘Dear Son of Mine’ in 2000, a poignant one-acter about Israeli Arab-Jewish relationships that deserves wide exposure) and by the more popular Yoni Rechter. Can we give them a headline?

    • Malcolm Miller says:

      Notwithstanding my enthusiasm for a production at Masada, I note an inconsistency in a totally different domain of the argument, related to social mores: while operas in Tel Aviv are never performed on Friday evenings out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath, the Carmina Burana performances are both scheduled for Friday evenings – my question to Slipped Discers would be whether this reflects a change in policy and whether it might be perceived as discrimination against a significant sector of the population.

  • Dashman says:

    What are “Nazi rhythms”?

  • Bob M says:

    Once again, a non-issue. Good work, Norman.

  • John says:

    I first heard dem ol’ Nazi rhythms of Orff in the Roman amphitheater at Ceasarea on the Israeli coast in the late 1960s. I recall that it was with Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic.
    I went with a truckload of kibbutzniks armed with binoculars and we had a blast.

  • MacroV says:

    Mr. Lebrecht does his usually fine journalism no favors with headlines such as “Nazi Epic.” Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” could be described that way; I’m not aware of Carmina Burana’s creation having anything to do the Nazis, other than the date of its composition. Isn’t Strauss’ Daphne (from about 1938) also a “Nazi Epic” by Mr. Lebrecht’s criterion?

    As for Masada as a performance venue, I can see his point, but if the Israeli government is ok with it, who am I to object? But by the same standard, nearly any place where a Roman set foot should probably be off limits to performance.

  • Marie says:

    I read your post while actually rehearsing Carmina burana with our choir and got really angry about the title “Nazi Epic”. I am 33 years old and have loved the piece for years. The music has made me happy, inspired me, consoled me and is a great joy to perform.
    If you want to know what Carmina burana is really about just watch the fantastic Ponnelle film on you tube.
    Don’t ruin this piece for (young) people by calling it a “Nazi Epic”. Give them a chance to listen to it without being predjudiced and let them decide for themselves.
    And maybe, when listening to “Ecce gratum”, “In trutina” or “Were diu werlt alle min” they will smile at each other and feel the same kind of joy that these musicians will experience while performing it. I certainly did not feel a desire to invade Poland tonight.

  • Amit says:

    Massada is by no means reminiscent of Nazi violations. The massacre that had taken place there had been committed by the Jews themselves, not by Romans. It was a mass suicide of a group of rebels, that knew they were soon going to lose the game and be captured by the Roman military.

  • Anon says:

    Carmina burana is not a “nazi epic”, whatever that means.

  • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    I am wondering what all the 10th/11th/12th/13th Century monks and wandering minstrels who wrote all the original texts that Orff used fragments of would make of the supposed Pagan Mythology and Moral Nihilism that NL refers to in his notes above. 🙂
    The original texts are often by turn sensual, dirty, suggestive, religious, satirical, politically and religiously critical, drunken, sexy, religiously devout, etc, etc. Whether Orff’s take on them musically is corrupting all those everyday things is debatable. Personally I like the piece immensely, but having sung many of the (truly wonderful) originals with various ensembles (particularly New London Consort) over the years I feel that Orff’s 20th century take on the stuff has some great moments but isn’t particularly profound or controversial.
    As for the location argument – well I am neither well educated enough or politically motivated enough to get into that side of the blog post, and am happy to sit back and read all of the arguing about it 🙂

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    The point is if they want to put it on and people are prepared to pay for it – there is nothing wrong with that. Simple.