BERLIN, Germany (AP) -- A leading opera house called off a production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" that features the severed head of the Prophet Mohammed, setting off a furious debate Tuesday over Islam, freedom of speech and the role of art.
The furor is the latest in Europe over religious sensitivities -- following cartoons of the prophet first published in a Danish newspaper and recent remarks by Pope Benedict XVI decrying holy war.
Kirsten Harms, director of Berlin's Deutsche Oper, announced "with great regret" that she had decided to cancel the three year old production after state security officials warned it could provoke dangerous reactions in the current politically charged climate.
After its premiere in 2003, the production by Hans Neuenfels drew widespread criticism over a scene in which King Idomeneo presents the severed heads not only of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, but also of Mohammed, Jesus and Buddha.
The severed heads are an addition by director Neuenfels to the 225-year-old opera, which was last performed by the company in March 2004.
Harms defended her decision, which she described as "weighing artistic freedom and freedom of a theater ... against the question of security for people's lives."
But the move immediately provoked strong reactions across Germany.
Outraged politicians called the decision to pull the production "crazy" and "a fatal signal" of caving into extremism. Response from Germany's Islamic community was mixed, with some praising the decision and others calling on Muslims to accept the role of provocation in art.
The leader of Germany's Islamic Council welcomed the move, saying a depiction of Mohammed with a severed head "could certainly offend Muslims."
They're perfectly willing to show a beheaded Jesus and Buddha, but not of Muhammed. These sniviling liberals are such cowards.