A modern version of Richard Wagner's Tannhauser has been cancelled in Germany after the opening-night audience complained about scenes showing Jews being executed and dying in gas chambers.

A spokeswoman for Duesseldorf's opera house Deutsche Oper am Rhein said there would only be concert performances, without theatrical staging.

Monika Doll said the opera's director, Burkhard Kosminski, had refused to tone down the disputed scenes, even though the Holocaust-related parts prompted several in the audience on Saturday to leave mid-performance.

Inspired by a German legend, Wagner's Tannhauser tells the story of courtier-singer who, after being seduced into a life of sensual pleasures and hedonism by the goddess Venus, seeks to return home and find redemption with his Earthly love, Elisabeth.

In Kosminski's version, the overture reportedly features performers trapped in a transparent gas chamber and Venus as a Nazi officer. At one point, the titular main character, depicted as one of the goddess' SS henchmen, is forced to murder a family. In addition to negative audience reaction at last weekend's debut, some critics have lambasted the production and angry patrons reportedly confronted Kosminski at an opening night after-party. Community leaders have also expressed horror and outrage.

Wagner remains a controversial figure in Germany because of his anti-Semitic views. Adolf Hitler was an admirer, and playing Wagner's music is still considered a taboo in Israel.

Tannhauser was first performed in Dresden in 1845.