Opera singers walk off the job at violent Cologne production | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 18.04.2009
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Opera singers walk off the job at violent Cologne production

Just two weeks before opening night singers at the Cologne opera are calling in sick because the staging of the classic production "Samson and Delilah" is too brutal.

Picture of the fassade of the Cologne Opera House with a fountain in the foreground

Something unusual is afoot behind the staid facade of the Cologne Opera House

Twenty-eight of the 64 chorus singers and three of the leading voices have stopped coming to rehearsals, according to opera spokesman, Johannes Wunderlich.

Israeli mezzo soprano Dalia Schaechter, who plays the lead role of Delilah, and Samuel Youn, as the high priest, have reportedly thrown in the towel, as has Ulrich Hielscher, who plays the part of the old Jew.

Director Tilman Knabe has set his production of Camille Saint-Saen's Samson and Delilah in the modern-day Middle East, instead of biblical Palestine. The staging includes a bloody machinegun battle and a gang rape.

Scenes too drastic to stomach, actors say

German media reports quote a spokeswoman for the chorus as saying that rehearsing these drastic scenes had been psychologically unbearable and had made many of the chorus members physically ill.

Apparently some people weren't accustomed to this sort of thing, said Wunderlich, adding that other theaters were doing more shocking things, like the production of Macbeth in Duesseldorf, where actors throw real feces around the stage.

Wunderlich said the chorus still had enough people to perform and that some of the singers had even praised Knabe's work. He said he didn't have the impression that the director was looking to generate headlines, or that he was denouncing one side or the other in the Middle East conflict.

Knabe's production is due to open on May 2.