One of the more contentious moments in the contentious history of German letters occurred some fifteen years ago in an argument over a theater emergency light. A play about the evil side of creation called The Ignorant One and the Insane One had begun its premier run at the 1972 Salzburg Festival. In the final scene, a diva, fresh from trilling Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria, drops into despair as she converses with her hopelessly alcoholic father. The soprano mutters her apocalyptic lines—“Light is a curse . . . exhaustion, nothing but exhaustion”—and the stage directions call for a dimming set. But while the Festival association had no trouble with a gloomy stage, it balked at the demand that every bulb in the theater hall be extinguished. A bitter fight ensued, and all performances after the first were canceled. The playwright himself fired off an angry telegram,...


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