Nazi-era work Carmina Burana debuts at Israel's Masada Festival

Thu Jun 4, 2015 12:29pm EDT
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By Ori Lewis

MASADA, Israel (Reuters) - Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, composed in the Nazi era, will be showcased at an Israeli opera festival against the backdrop of a towering desert plateau that stands as a symbol of Jewish resistance and sacrifice.

Orff's cantata comprising 24 poems, mostly in Latin, is one of the most popular works in classical music, particularly the opening bars of the first movement "O Fortuna".

Orff, born in Bavaria in 1895, thrived under the Nazis, who adored his rousing choruses and pagan themes.

But unlike Richard Wagner, Adolf Hitler's favorite composer and a virulent anti-Semite whose music remains unofficially banned in Israel, Carl Orff's work has been performed publicly in the country for decades.

It will now be performed for the first time at the annual Opera Festival at Masada, on the shores of the Dead Sea, first on Friday and then on June 12.

"I don't think that in the (death) camps in Auschwitz and Treblinka they played Carl Orff, but they played Wagner before (people) went to the gas chambers," Daniel Oren, music director of the Israeli Opera that is staging the festival, told Reuters.

Michael Ajzenstadt, the company's artistic administrator, said "the art was the message" when it came to controversial composers.

"If we are going to look into the lives and the beliefs and doctrines of every artist around the world, I'm sure we won't be able to perform, at least here in Israel, a lot of music," Ajzenstadt said.   Continued...

Dancers perform during a dress rehearsal for Carmina Burana by Carl Orff ahead of the Israeli Opera Festival, which begins Thursday, at Masada June 3, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar Awad