gzmir opera cancels ‘Carmina Burana,’ sparking censorship concerns

Censorship allegations concerning Turkey’s state-run art institutions have taken a new turn this week with the izmir State Opera and Ballet’s removal of “Carmina Burana” from its repertoire at the last minute, two days before the world-famous cantata was set to be performed at the Ahmed Adnan Saygun Arts Center in an evening performance on Saturday, according to news reports that appeared Friday in Turkish media.

The company’s management removed the Carl Orff cantata from Saturday’s repertoire citing “technical problems” however, the fact that the last-minute decision came right on the heels of classical pianist Fazil Say’s column on Wednesday in the Cumhuriyet daily — in which he wrote about the themes explored in “Carmina Burana,” such as sex, lust and drinking — has raised questions as to whether Say’s column has served as a “wakeup call” for the izmir State Opera, according to an article published Friday in Cumhuriyet.

An announcement on the izmir Opera’s website Friday that was removed in the afternoon said that the company’s performance of “Carmina Burana,” originally scheduled for May 2, had been postponed to May 18 due to technical problems.

Say originally wrote about “Carmina Burana” in his weekly column to react against the Antalya Symphony Orchestra’s management, which replaced its planned performance of the pianist-composer’s “Nazim Oratorio” on April 30 with a performance of “Carmina Burana.” Say claimed in his column that the orchestra management was trying to censor the “Nazim Oratorio” but since “[the officials in] the Culture and Tourism Ministry don’t understand Latin, they don’t know how [innocent] Nazim Oratorio’ is compared to Carmina Burana’ regarding morality.”

Commissioned by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Say composed the “Nazim Oratorio,” a tribute to 20th-century Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, featuring 16 of Hikmet’s poems, in 2001. “Carmina Burana,” a staple of the world’s classical music repertoire, based on 24 poems from the medieval collection of the same name, was composed in 1936.