adams-death-of-klinghofferThis Fall, New York City’s Metropolitan Opera will produce and stage John Adam’s “The Death of Klinghoffer,” and simulcast it live across the world in over 1,800 theaters. Although a performance has been on British television before, the simulcast to several dozen countries is causing some alarm.

This modern opera has been criticized for over two decades and has been called anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, pro-terrorist, problematic, and immature. It tells a story of the October 1985 murder by four Palestinian terrorists of a disabled, wheelchair-bound, Jewish-American tourist aboard the Italian Achille Lauro cruise ship as it was docked in Egypt. After hijacking the ship, the terrorists demanded the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, and then executed the Jewish-American passengers and dumped his body overboard.

The opera – which was first staged in Brussels in March 1991 and directed by Peter Sellars – was originally commissioned by five opera companies, as well as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where it was performed in late Summer 1991 and Fall 2003.

Many of the past performances have been accompanied by protests by Jewish activists. After early criticisms, a subplot involving the “stereotypically Jewish” neighbors of the Klinghoffer’s was removed from the production. Other reviewers criticized the production for its title (The DEATH of Klinghoffer, instead of the MURDER of Klinghoffer); librettist Alice Goodman’s rejection of her Jewish heritage and her criticisms of the State of Israel; the anti-Semitic attitudes voiced in the musical lyrics, the opera’s philosophy that all suffering must be voiced and heard, that Palestinian suffering equals those of Israelis, and that a terrorist attack could be a form of civilized discourse.

Myron Kaplan, an opera fan and researcher for CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting) is leading a campaign against The Met’s Fall production. A copy of his open letter can be found HERE. Lee Abrahamian, a Director of Communications and spokesperson for The Met, said that the Metropolitan Opera realized that production “will attract more comment as we approach its scheduled performances.” The Metropolitan Opera’s general manager, Peter Gelb (the son of the recently deceased retired New York Times editor, Arthur Gelb) wrote that John Adam’s opera is “one of the most important musical compositions of the late 20th century.” He added that he and the opera have an “artistic duty to present our audiences — both in the opera house and in movie theaters around the world — with this production of an opera that is a contemporary musical masterpiece.”

Gelb replied to Kaplan, saying, “John Adams has said that in composing ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ he tried to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists, as well as in their victims.”

Two years ago, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote the following about a British production of the opera: “I write this not as an advocate for censorship, something I passionately oppose. Let the production proceed. But let people be educated about its glaring flaws lest they fall into the trap of the moral equivalence between those who live to kill and those who are forced to kill because they wish to live.”

Over a decade ago, professor and critic Richard Taruskin wrote, “If the events of Sept. 11 could not jar some artists and critics out of their habit of romantically idealizing criminals, then nothing will… If terrorism — specifically, the commission or advocacy of deliberate acts of deadly violence directed randomly at the innocent — is to be defeated, world public opinion has to be turned decisively against it. The only way to do that is to focus resolutely on the acts rather than their claimed (or conjectured) motivations, and to characterize all such acts, whatever their motivation, as crimes. This means no longer romanticizing terrorists as Robin Hoods and no longer idealizing their deeds as rough poetic justice.”

Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, a vice president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, is eager o see the opera this Autumn. When he saw it in 2003, he said that he found it to be provocative, but he believes that art should be provocative. he said, “Art is not meant to soothe, it’s meant to provoke.” He told a reporter for The Forward, “The opera should remind a new generation, or a generation that has become unaware, of the events of 1985 and the Achille Lauro and the Palestinian Liberation Front… Here was a wanton murder of a helpless human being. Trying to portray both sides and show they’re not monsters, but human beings who did foul, awful things to advance their cause, shows that it was a horrific event. If by producing this those questions are raised again, is that a bad thing? Discussions need to be had.”

The opera ends with the wife of Klinghoffer, who has been shot in the head and dumped overboard, singing, “If a hundred people were murdered and their blood flowed in the wake of the ship like oil, only then would the world intervene.”

Honestly, thre decades after the terrorist attack, I doubt the world would intervene for 100 or even 1,000 murdered people.



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  • Since this posting… an update

    June 17, 2014: Met Cancels the Simulcast

    The Metropolitan Opera announced on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, that it was canceling the simulcast John Adams’s “The Death of Klinghoffer.”

    The Met decided to cancel its planned Nov. 15 Live in HD transmission of “Klinghoffer” to movie theaters and a radio broadcast after discussions with the Anti-Defamation League.

    The ADL said “while the opera itself is not anti-Semitic, there is a concern the opera could be used in foreign countries to stir up anti-Israel sentiments or as a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism.”

    Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said that he remained a champion of the works of Mr. Adams, and that he does not believe the work is anti-Semitic. But he added that he was reacting to the concern among Jews that the live transmission to theaters around the world “would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.”

  • Update 2:

    Composer John Adams denounced the Met’s decision to cancel the Simulcast

    “My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder,” Mr. Adams said in a statement. “It acknowledges the dreams and the grievances of not only the Israeli but also the Palestinian people, and in no form condones or promotes violence, terrorism or anti-Semitism.”

    Mr. Adams said that the cancellation of the simulcast was “a deeply regrettable decision and goes far beyond issues of ‘artistic freedom,’ and ends in promoting the same kind of intolerance that the opera’s detractors claim to be preventing.”

    • After attending the premiere of the show in 1991, Klinghoffer’s two daughters told the NY Times, “We are outraged at the exploitation of our parents and the cold-blooded murder of our father as the centerpiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic.” And they added, “While we understand artistic license, when it so clearly favors one point of view it is biased. Moreover, the juxtaposition of the plight of the Palestinian people with the coldblooded murder of an innocent disabled American Jew is both historically naive and appalling.”

      Why shouldn’t their views be respected?

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