Richard and I saw *The Death of Klinghoffer* at the Met on 10/24. It's an opera with music by John Adams and a libretto by Alice Goodman, written in 1991, dramatizing the hijacking of the cruise ship the Achille Lauro. The ship was on an 11-day tour of the Mediterranean - - four armed Palestinian terrorists boarded the ship in Alexandria, demanding the release of a list of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They shot and killed a 69-year old Jewish New Yorker, Leon Klinghoffer, and threw him (and his wheelchair) overboard.
The original production was performed in Brussels, Lyon, Vienna, Brooklyn, and San Francisco in 1991. This is the first time it's been performed at the Met. It's raised hackles from the start - - in November 2001 the Boston Symphony canceled a performance of the opera's two central choruses, "The Chorus of Exiled Palestinians" and "The Chorus of Exiled Israelis". A member of the chorus had a family member killed on one of the planes on 9/11, and the work has the reputation for being sympathetic to terrorists.
The protests to the Met production started in the spring, months before the season opened. Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met, did not cancel any performances, but did cancel the HD broadcast and radio broadcast. He said, in a statement, "I'm convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic, but I've also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe."
John Adams (composer of the opera) responded: "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."
I'm a huge Adams fan, since seeing *Nixon in China* on TV in the late 80s. I saw the Met premiere of *Nixon in China*, and saw Adams' *Doctor Atomic* both in San Francisco and in New York. I had very little familiarity with *The Death of Klinghoffer* - - I had listened to the recording when the work was fairly new, and it didn't really hit me. I was very curious and excited to see the Met production.
Richard heard through the grapevine that people were required to check bags at the door at the first performance, four days before our performance. I hoped this would be just for the opening night. I called the box office the afternoon of our performance and asked if we would need to check our bags - - I was told we would not, that the security would be no different than at any other performance. Richard and I arrived at the opera house, gave our tickets to the usher - - and were told to move over to the left to check our bags. Very frustrating, because it would lead to a delay in us getting home after the opera.
But what about the music? The opera opens with "The Chorus of Exiled Palestinians", which starts luminous and shimmering and builds into a fury, ending with the words "Our faith / will take the stones he broke / and break his teeth." The director, Tom Morris (who also did *War Horse*), ended the chorus with a lot of vehemence and the waving of a green flag. "The Chorus of Exiled Israelis" followed, which was gentle and benign, staged with people kneeling and pulling little trees out of wooden boxes.
This was Exhibit A of how the deck is stacked against the terrorists in the score. True, Adams and Goodman give us both sides of the conflict, but the Palestinians don't come off especially well. The worst example of this is in an aria by one of the terrorists - - he's making demands, being violent, and Adams has a synthesizer in the orchestra making all kinds of wonky electronic sounds. It sounded like someone was playing Super Mario Brothers. That’s cheap.
Much of the score is very beautiful - - the high point was a bassoon solo during an aria by one of the terrorists. Adams is a brilliant orchestrator and really knows how to write for the voice. Another high point was an aria in the second act by a Palestinian Woman. This is the aria that spurs one of the terrorists on to shoot Klinghoffer.
But, sadly, much of the score was pretty boring, and overshadowed the rest. Note to composers: one of the central purposes of an opera is to not be boring. Adams is in good company - - nearly all the Mozart operas I've seen fail this test. It's unfair to compare *Klinghoffer* to *Nixon*, but I will anyway. *Nixon* is on a subject matter that I find much more interesting, but the opera itself has so much more variety: in the music, in the dramatic situations, in the moods, in the settings. Richard had the perfect word: much of what we saw onstage was miserable. The situation was miserable, the characters were miserable. This is not a dramatic emotion.
The singing was very strong. Paolo Szot had the biggest role, as the Captain - - he sang very well and gave a great performance. The Klinghoffers are the emotional center of the piece, they were played by Alan Opie and Michaela Martens. I slept through Opie's second aria (I was tired, and bored), but was glad to be awake for both of Martens' arias. Her vocal line dips quite low here and there, and she sang with opulence and heart. Sean Panikkar gave the best performance of the four terrorists. His line gets rather jagged, and he sang it well. David Robertson was the conductor, and got such beautiful sounds out of the Met Orchestra.
The opera was sold out, and it looked like everyone stayed for the entire performance. There were lots of people under 40 in the audience. There was no booing during the curtain calls.
Richard and I waited for over 20 minutes to get our bags at the end of the night. I looked at the slow-moving line of people and said to Richard, "The terrorists have won." Richard complained to one of the security staff, who said, "We're doing a difficult job here". Yeah, he didn't have to sit through the opera.