Salzburg is accused of anti-semitism in Weill’s Threepenny Opera

Salzburg is accused of anti-semitism in Weill’s Threepenny Opera


norman lebrecht

August 14, 2015

The influential critic Dr Robert Braunmüller has laid into the Salzburg Festival over its new production of the Brecht-Weill Threepeny Opera, in which Peachum is made to look and act like Fagin, Charles Dickens’s anti-semitic caricature in Oliver Twist.

The production is by Julian Crouch and Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Robert accuses them of deliberately using anti-semitic images to arouse controversy.

Read his articles here and here in the Salzburger Abendzeitung.

The first-night visuals are certainly disturbing.

peachum as fagin

Here is my own take on the Fagin debate.


  • Evan Tublitz says:

    Norman, Your 2005 article on Dickens is truly a masterful essay in both content and expression. Elegantly and persuasively written, you speak to Dickens’ prejudice and reveal his later redemption with great depth of research and knowledge. A writer like you in our society is truly deeply needed and sadly getting rarer to find!

  • PDQ.BACH says:

    The veteran Hungarian-born Austrian journalist Paul Lendvai diagnosed in postwar Austria a novel form of antisemitism: Antisemitismus ohne Juden, antisemitism without Jews, as there were hardly any surviving after the Nazi extermination.

    In 2000, social scientist Bernd Marin detected a new variant of secondary antisemitism: antisemitism without antisemites, as no one in his right mind, except for the most extreme (Neo-)Nazi, would dare declare oneself as such anymore. Marin observed that antisemitic stereotypes and antisemitic prejudice had become so pervasive and so deeply ingrained in the Austrian vernacular culture that they were about to turn subliminal.

    Alexander Pollak, a researcher affiliated with the Austrian Academy’s research project on “Diskurs, Politik, Identität”, has now proposed a third, even more insidious variant, emerging from the media: a contour-less antisemitism with variable detection thresholds, dependent on the target audience’s level of consciousness: some in the audience may find it disturbingly shrill; others will perceive it as faintly as a dog whistle.

  • william osborne says:

    In response, the Director has said that he is abhorred by anti-Semitism, that he doesn’t see anti-Semitism in the way the character has been created, but that if people continue to see it that way he will change the production. Braunmüller notes that these are clear and unmistakable words.

    For me, it’s hard to say if the portrayal is anti-Semitic. Jewish caricatures, for example, don’t usually have red hair. From the photos, it seems like the goal was more like the caricatures of stuffy, priggish, 19th century rich people in Britain – a trope common in the movies. OTH, it’s a little too borderline for comfort. It is useful and to be welcomed that this sort of conversation is going on in Salzburg, even if the most common forms of racism in Austria and Germany these days aren’t directed toward Jewish people.

    Just saw a photo of Dr. Cornell West being arrested in Ferguson. We’re all in this together…

    • CDH says:

      Do you mean “he abhors anti-Semitism”?

      • william osborne says:

        The phrase in the article is “dass er jeden Antisemitismus verabscheue.” I thus felt the past participle in English caught the sense better, but that is a matter of interpretation. Perhaps the simple “abhors” is better.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Viewed with the notions of Konjunktiv I & II in indirect speech, I guess you could use both, “abhors” or “abhorred”.

          – “The director unequivocally asserted that he abhorred any and all antisemitism” (if you doubt the sincerity of his statement) and

          – “The director unequivocally asserted that he abhors any and all antisemitism” (if you believe him).

          • william osborne says:

            I’m not sure why, but I believe the director. Interesting thought about forms of speech and liars. I think liars might be more given to direct speech and active voices than the indirect and passive voice. The most pathological liars bluster unconditional, insistent statements.

            But there are also cultural differences that determine forms of speech. One of the things I’ve long noticed, is that in the English-speaking world, indirect speech is considered more polite (even if grammatically incorrect as CDH insists,) while in the German-speaking world it is simply viewed as weak, confused, or indecisive. I’ve even noticed that Austrians tend to speak more indirectly than Germans – though, of course, this might all be my imagination. It seems like the more mixed and diverse a society is (like that old Austro-Hungarian world,) the more people tend to speak in indirect and passive voices. Their world becomes more conditional. It seems that Germany is being pushed into leading the EU. In that mixed world, they might need to think in more conditional terms instead of absolute rules – or at least the Greeks and other Mediterranean countries seem to think so…

        • CDH says:

          It’s not the tense I am arguing. It’s he voice. HE abhors or abhorred — fine. Active voice. He is not abhorred BY — that is passive, and means that anti-Semitism abhors HIM. Whatever tense you want to use, HE is the subject and abhor, in whatever form is the verb, and anti-Semtism the object of the sentence. It’s third-grade grammar (when grammar was taught).

    • PDQ.BACH says:

      « Jewish caricatures, for example, don’t usually have red hair.»

      Alas, this is incorrect. One need not search farther than [Wikipedia]( for a list of references.
      ” In European culture, prior to the 20th century, red hair was commonly identified as the distinguishing negative Jewish trait and identified with Judas Iscariot: during the Spanish Inquisition, all those with red hair were identified as Jewish. In Italy, red hair was associated with Italian Jews, and Judas was traditionally depicted as red-haired in Italian and Spanish art. Writers from Shakespeare to Dickens would identify Jewish characters by giving them red hair. The stereotype remains in parts of Eastern Europe and Russia, but not in the US or Western Europe. ”
      [quoting from the above article, q.v. for references]

      A more recent example: Daniel Cohn-Bendit, “Danny le Rouge”, the former firebrand leader of Parisian students in 1968, was regularly jibed for the ‘colour of his hair’, literally, in French right-wing pamphlets; ‘red hair’ being a transparent antisemitic code.

  • Mark Morrison says:

    Anti-semitism in Austria? Who woulda thunk it?
    I seem to remember that Simon Wiesenthal located his center in Vienna because the he felt that the Germans had been owning up to their anti-semitism and the guilt of Nazism. The Austrians, on the other hand, he felt mostly denied their role in the Holocaust and tried to characterize themselves as innocent victims of the Germans.

    • jaypee says:

      And cue the Austria/Germany bashing.
      From your name, I assume you’re American or British. Based on your generalization, I’d go with the former. So you’re probably obese, wear flip-flops and a baseball cap, drink Diet Coke and eat tons of Doritos, carry a gun, watch Fox News, believe Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, never had a passport and think that Kim Kardashian is god’s gift to Earth. Shall I go on with the clichés? What makes you think that your clichés on Austria are acceptable?

      Shall we go through the history -recent or past- of your country? When’s the last time there was a Jewish President? A Jewish Prime Minister?

    • Holger H. says:

      Austrians are not specifically against Jews, they are pretty much against anything beyond their horizon, and the horizon is near, when the mountains are high. They are – in average, exceptions apply – some of the most narrow minded people I know, yet full of themselves.