An opera featuring rape, torture and masturbation, a nude bass singing an aria in the shower and a cross-dressing hero who rounds off the night by slaughtering a troupe of semi-naked prostitutes has caused a scandal in Berlin.

Mozart’s “Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail” (The Abduction from the Seraglio), one of the 18th century Austrian composer’s most popular operas, is usually played as a sparkling comedy of relationships set in the grounds of a mythical Turkish palace.

The new production in Berlin’s Komische Oper moves the action to a modern-day brothel where a brutal pimp keeps the women in his power through systematic rape and torture.

The opera’s Catalan director, Calixto Bieito, who has seen previous productions greeted with leaflets proclaiming “Death to Bieito!” wanted to use the opera to cast a light on the plight of women exploited in the sex trade.

But the production has sparked outraged articles in the press and an initial threat from DaimlerChrysler, one of the main sponsors, to withdraw funding. Performances have been interrupted at various points by shouts from the floor as patrons have walked out in disgust.

“How filthy can theater be?” asked Germany’s top selling daily newspaper Bild.

More here.