Entertainment

Nude seniors in Mickey Mouse masks? A provocative night at the opera

Despite a flood of negative reviews and urges for a boycott, a controversial revamp of a Verdi opera is playing to a packed house in Germany.
Kresnik enlisted 35 seniors to appear nude while wearing Mickey Mouse masks for the opera. ((Jens-Ulrich Koch/AFP/Getty))

Despite a flood of negative reviews and urges for a boycott, a controversial revamp of a Verdi opera is playing to a packed house in Germany.

Provocative choreographer and theatre director Johann Kresnik's new staging of Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) has been blasted by critics and booed by some audiences since its debut in April in the eastern German city of Erfurt.

Verdi's opera, loosely based on the 18th-century assassination of Sweden's King Gustav III, was controversial even during its debut in 1859, because it depicts the killing of a European monarch. The composer succumbed to censors and set the opera in the New World colony of Boston instead.

A scene from Johann Kresnik's updated version of Verdi's opera Un Ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball. ((Jens-Ulrich Koch/AFP/Getty))

Kresnik has kept the U.S. as the opera's setting, but moved the action to the ruins of New York's World Trade Center after Sept. 11, in an anti-capitalist retelling of Verdi's work. He has also mined U.S. pop culture figures — including Mickey Mouse, Marilyn Monroe, Uncle Sam and Elvis impersonators — and used them in colourful but bizarre interpretations.

For instance, masks of Walt Disney's famed mouse are worn by 35 nude seniors who enlisted to appear as extras in the opera. Another shocking depiction is a role portrayed by a female vocalist wearing a Hitleresque moustache and a ball gown who delivers Nazi salutes.

"I changed neither Verdi's music nor his text. I simply have given the opera another interpretation," said the 68-year-old Kresnik, known for his provocative stagings, as well as a tendency to feature nudity in his productions.

A local politician called for a boycott of the Kresnik production, and several of Germany's major newspapers have given the opera poor reviews, but audiences have nonetheless continued to flock to the show, which continues at the Theater Erfurt until the end of May.

With files from the Associated Press

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