PETA cracks down on Berlin State Opera’s use of live animals in staging of Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’

13 October 2022, 16:22 | Updated: 13 October 2022, 16:24

Berlin State Opera announced changes to their productions following the controversy
Berlin State Opera announced changes to their productions following the controversy. Picture: Getty / Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The leading German opera company has announced changes to its productions following controversy around the use of caged guinea pigs and rabbits in performances.

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PETA Deutschland, the German arm of the world’s largest animal rights organisation, has publicly appealed to Berlin State Opera to remove live animals from their current productions of Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’.

‘The Ring of the Nibelung’ (Der Ring des Nibelungen), is a cycle by German composer, Richard Wagner, made up of four operas; ‘Das Rheingold’ (The Rhinegold), ‘Die Walküre’ (The Valkyrie), ‘Siegfried’, and ‘Götterdämmerung’ (Twilight of the Gods).

PETA Deutschland had reportedly “received initial clues about animal abuse” at the end of September, and contacted the opera company, asking them to “save the rabbits and guinea pigs the stress on stage and refrain from animal abuse”.

In the Berlin State Opera productions of Das Rhinegold and Die Walküre, more than 30 live guinea pigs and rabbits were seen in cages on stage. Their presence was reportedly meant to help portray a research laboratory within the fortress of the Gods in Valhalla.

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Following an in-person conversation between PETA and Berliner Staatsopern-Intendant Matthias Schulz last week, Schulz announced that the Berlin State Opera productions would no longer be using guinea pigs for the four remaining performances.

He also announced that the number of rabbits used in the production would also be reduced from 30 to 20.

This announcement prompted PETA Deutschland to share a public post earlier this week saying that while these actions were a “good start”, the organisation would “continue to insist that animals [should] no longer be used at the Berlin State Opera [for] future performances”.

Peter Höffken who works for PETA Deutschland added, “Animals are not in this world to be exposed on stage to a scary and unusual scenario made of loud music and bright light and to be transported back and forth as a supposed audience attraction.

“We are happy that the Berlin State Opera has been open to our arguments and now, at least, spared some animals the stress. We hope that those responsible will also rethink in the long term and that animals will no longer be used in the performances.”

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The German opera company has responded to PETA’s public statement with an Instagram post of their own.

In the caption of the post, the Berlin State Opera wrote that the use of animals in Das Rhinegold and Die Walküre, was only done after experts evaluated the stage conditions the animals would experience.

The Berliner Staatsoper then shared an image of a statement from the animal agency, ekkifant, who were in charge of ensuring the animals safety.

The statement reads: “No animals were injured or stressed during the performances and rehearsals for the above productions [Das Rheingold and Die Walküre].

“During the performances and rehearsals, the animals were cared for in a species-appropriate manner and housed in large spacious cages, two at a time, with drinking, food and plenty of hay, so that the animal could have withdrawn if necessary.

“During the entire production period, they were under the responsible supervision of the professional trainers in charge. The animals were prepared for the performances by 6 rehearsals, under the supervision of the responsible veterinary office.

“The animals used were responsibly prepared for the performance and did not show any symptoms of stress at any time. The wattage of the lighting was also adjusted to the needs of the animals.

“If stress or swearing symptoms had occurred in one or more animals at any point, the assignment would not have been approved or continued from our side.”