BERLIN (AFP) - Severed heads of the Prophet Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus and Poseidon that were to have been used in a hotly disputed staging of a Mozart opera in Berlin this month have vanished, the opera house has said.

"It seems the four heads are gone," Deutsche Oper spokesman Alexander Busche told AFP. "We do not know when they disappeared or who is responsible."

He said new props would have to be made before a scheduled performance of "Idomeneo" on December 18.

Director Hans Neuenfels's staging features a bloody climax in which King Idomeneo places the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed on four chairs.

The production angered some members of the audience when it premiered in December 2003.

In September the opera was removed from the autumn schedule for fear of violent protests by Muslims over the desecration of the image of Mohammed in light of the uproar earlier this year over caricatures of the Prophet printed in European newspapers.

The decision sparked a heated debate in Germany in which the general manager of the opera house, Kirsten Harms, was widely accused of kowtowing before extremists and censoring artistic expression.

She argued Berlin authorities had warned her of a potential security risk by putting on the controversial staging.

Last month Neuenfels said he had received threatening letters demanding he modify the final scene of the opera.

He noted the missives were not driven by political or religious concerns but rather came from "opera purists" who disliked the radical overhaul of "Idomeneo".

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