(Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)
Ashutosh Khandekar - Editor
From the current issue of Opera Now
Adams’ 1991 opera has never been far from controversy. It dramatises the actual events surrounding the hijack of a cruise liner, en route from Egypt to Israel in 1985, by a group of Palestinians. Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish-American businessman, was shot and thrown overboard in his wheelchair.
Is the opera anti-Semitic? In a word: no. Even Gelb admits as much, making his decision to cancel the relay all the more unfathomable. For sure, there are characters on the stage that spout anti-Semitic sentiments. The men who hijacked the ship were, after all, full of hatred towards Israel, and the opera portrays them as truthfully as it can. Leon Klinghoffer, meanwhile, is characterised as a brave, decent man who confronts the hijackers and pays the price. His murder is shown to be an act of repugnant, cruel and unnecessary violence.
Klinghoffer is one of the few operas written in the last 50 years that tackles a subject of enduring importance and extreme relevance to its audiences. Alice Goodman’s libretto is intense and thoughtful; Adams’ music is very moving: full of urgency, rage and compassion. The opera attempts to give a historical context to complex modern-day conflicts, and it examines a world where innocents become victims of power-mongers, caught up in other people’s battles. It offers no solutions; it relates a horrific, true story vividly, and with dignity.
Peter Gelb has been bemoaning the fact that cinema relays from the Met haven’t attracted the new, younger public he had hoped for. The relay of The Death of Klinghoffer could have been a game-changer in this respect: an extraordinary opportunity for the Met to show a diverse, global audience how opera can grapple with subjects of massive cultural and geopolitical significance. Instead, Gelb has stigmatised one of the great works of opera of the 20th century, an act unworthy for someone in his elevated position of cultural influence.
The final word has to go to John Adams himself, who said in an official response to the Met: ‘The cancellation of the international telecast is 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.’
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