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Observations on the Met’s cancelation of the ‘Klinghoffer’ simulcast

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So New York’s Metropolitan Opera has decided to pull the plug on its worldwide simulcast of a live performance of The Death of Klinghoffer.  Some observations:

First, an obvious but overlooked feature of the controversy is that virtually all of the complaints about the opera have emanated from the unexpected side. The work’s creators – composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman – chose as their subject matter the unfathomably cruel and cowardly murder of a defenseless, elderly wheelchair-bound Jewish man by Palestinian hijackers as a microcosm for examining the larger Middle East conflict.  Nevertheless, Palestinian complaints about the way this event was chosen and how Palestinians are portrayed have been virtually non-existent.  The debate has somehow focused on whether the opera is anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel.

Of course, the opera does not condone the senseless murder in any way.  Klinghoffer himself is given an eloquent aria condemning his tormentors, and the last words belong to Marilyn Klinghoffer as she berates the ship’s captain for “embracing” the hijackers who killed her husband.  Nevertheless, critics of the opera find it problematical from the very beginning, where a Palestinian chorus sings:  “My father’s house was razed—In nineteen forty-eight—When the Israelis passed—Over our street”, thereby instantly signifying that it would treat Palestinians as genuine human beings with recognizable motivations, instead of cartoon figure evildoers who act solely out of psychopathic nihilism.  This effort to understand the motivations of the hijackers and acknowledge the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people as a whole is too much to bear for those who demand adherence to the strict black-white narrative depicting Americans/Westerners/Israelis/Jews as holy victims of Arab/Muslim killing machines.

Second, during the intense and quite successful effort to pressure the Met into reversing its position, perhaps the most comprehensive public complaint was authored by Myron Kaplan of CAMERA.  Kaplan’s letter includes a litany of complaints, and he manages to cram into a single sentence a wide variety of long-discredited hasbara, complaining that the first lines of the opera, quoted above:

falsely suggest[s] that the Israelis, besieged by the armies of five Arab countries and Palestinian Arab “irregulars” bent on driving them into the sea, exacted widespread revenge upon Arabs residing in the ancient Jewish homeland.

Elsewhere, Kaplan descends into pure silliness, complaining that

The choice of the title, The Death of Klinghoffer and not “The Murder of Klinghoffer,” signals the work’s moral evasion and misrepresentation

as if the opera fails to make it clear that Klinghoffer’s death was not of natural causes, and he suggests that Alice Goodman is some sort of race traitor, as she

rejected her American Jewish heritage by joining the Anglican Church, the leadership of which is known for its hostility toward Israel. Goodman is now a parish priest in England.

Nothing new here, but Kaplan’s letter is noteworthy for one argument that exposes not only his own hypocrisy but that of the entire mainstream discourse on terrorism.  Bemoaning the fact that one of the hijackers tearfully recounts how his mother and brother were slaughtered in the Sabra/Shatilla massacres, Kaplan complains:

This tear jerker falsely implies that Israelis, rather than members of the Lebanese Christian Phalange militia, massacred hundreds of Palestinian Arabs on Sept. 16-18, 1982 in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee districts. It gives no hint that the Phalangists acted in retribution for massacres of Christian Lebanese by the PLO and the September 14 assassination of the country’s Christian president-elect, Bashir Gemayel.

Put aside the historically false but quite familiar attempt to absolve Israel as an innocent bystander in the Sabra/Shattila massacre, and try not to gag on Kaplan’s reference to these horrifying massacres as a “tear jerker.”  Most remarkable is that Kaplan actually complains that the opera does not explain the mass murder of 800 to 3500 defenseless civilians by including the supposedly essential explanation that the Phalangists were seeking revenge for their own grievances.  So let’s get this straight.  When the bad guys kill one victim, it is outrageous to examine their motives or even consider them to be members of the species homo sapiens.  But when people Kaplan identifies with massacre a few thousand untermenschen, the outrage is in mentioning such barbarity without offering a justification for it.

Third, Met director Peter Gelb’s announced reason  for canceling the simulcast

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

is absurd on multiple levels.  Even assuming the truth of this alleged uptick in worldwide anti-Semitism (see here), what exactly is the danger in broadcasting this opera?  As librettist Goodman told the Guardian:  “The whole idea of pogroms emerging from the simulcast of a modern opera is more than faintly absurd.”  One Guardian commenter named Gaiseric added wittily:  “Obviously a cinema showing a live broadcast of an obscure modern opera is exactly the kind of place you’d expect neo-Nazi thugs to congregate.”

And that is the least of the flaws in the anti-Semitism excuse.  As noted above, this opera is about Palestinians murdering a defenseless Jewish invalid in an unfathomably cruel and cowardly manner; how is that going to inspire and ignite a wave of anti-Semitism among Klinghoffer’s viewers?  If the opera’s creators had chosen as their subject matter Deir Yassin, or Qibya, or Beirut 1982 (or 2006) or Gaza, the reasoning employed by the Met would at least be logical.  Widely publicizing the most shocking incidents of Israeli mass murder of civilians might conceivably incite anti-Jewish sentiment, but the murder of Leon Klinghoffer?  Seriously?

As for expressions of anti-Semitism in the opera itself, they apparently are limited to the rantings of one of the hijackers.  Again, librettist Alice Goodman:

There is nothing anti-semitic in Klinghoffer apart from one aria which is sung by an anti-semitic character and is clearly flagged as such.

Such vile expressions of Jew-hatred from an unsympathetic (to say the least) character are as likely to incite anti-Semitism as “12 Years a Slave” is to unleash a wave of cruel treatment of black people.

Worst of all, if feeding anti-Semitism is the fear, having Jewish organizations like the ADL and CAMERA apply pressure to suppress a major artistic work surely is not the remedy.  Their success in censoring Klinghoffer has become major news around the globe, and it is not just genteel opera lovers who planned to see the broadcast who will be outraged.  Take a look at the NY Times comments most recommended by readers; the Guardian’s comments are similar.  This morning, the Times weighed in with a very critical editorial.  Won’t genuine anti-Semites (not to mention the rest of us) see this episode as confirmation of the outsized power of the numerically small Jewish community to act in a narrow-minded, self-serving fashion to the detriment of the much larger population?  A genuine anti-Semite plotting to stoke the fires of his/her obsession could not have dreamed up a better scenario.

Fourth, the ADL and Myron Kaplan raised the question of sensitivity to the Klinghoffer daughters, who have been lobbying against the opera since its inception.  (I wonder how Kaplan would react to anyone dismissing the Klinghoffers’ statements as “tear jerkers.”)  These women are clearly deserving of deepest sympathy.  In addition to the horrifying ordeal of hearing about their father’s fate, their mother was suffering from terminal cancer and died just a few months later.  The question is not whether the daughters’ suffering is genuine but to what extent sensitivity to their feelings should influence a public decision such as this.

At the time the opera premiered, the Klinghoffers issued a statement complaining that the opera “appears to us to be anti-Semitic…  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.”  This political opinion, which frankly is difficult to decipher as well as wrong-headed, is not afforded any credence by their personal ordeal.  But their objection to anyone making a cause celebre of their private hell is a more complex issue.  Still, the elder Klinghoffers unwillingly became public figures whose compelling story attracted artistic attention, not unlike Patty Hearst, the doomed passengers on United Flight 93, or the anonymous victims of Guernica.  The daughters have absolutely no cause to complain that their parents were depicted unfairly or without dignity, or that private details of their lives were unnecessarily exposed.

Moreover, if sensitivity to families who have lost loved ones were to dictate public events, the Palestinians surely would prevail on every dispute with Israelis on the basis of sheer numbers.

Fifth, there is a long history of money shaping the decisions of those who refuse to acknowledge its influence, but in this case, the connection is even clearer than usual.  Just two days before the Met’s reversal, the NY Times ran a piece on the sad state of the opera company’s finances, and the embarrassing revelation of director Peter Gelb’s very comfortable salary amidst the pay cuts he is seeking to impose on the company’s unionized workers.  Could Gelb have been concerned with the loss of financial support if he refused to “compromise” with the ADL?  Is it even possible that he was unconcerned?

Sixth, as awful as the murder of Klinghoffer was, it was no worse than, say, the wanton killing of the two Palestinian teenagers on Nakba day that, despite being captured on film, has not been deemed worthy of condemnation by many of those belly-aching over the Klinghoffer production.  In fact, Michael Oren’s pronouncement on CNN that these recent murders might have been staged is reminiscent of, and as disgusting as, a PLO official’s initial “joke” that Marilyn Klinghoffer might have murdered her husband for the insurance money.  Of course, the only thing that distinguishes the Nakba Day murders from thousands of other similar killings of Palestinians by Israelis over the last half-century plus is the video confirmation that the victims were cut down in cold blood.  Simple decency demands revulsion at the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, but why does it not demand the same revulsion at the murder of untold numbers of Palestinians killed in a similarly cruel and cowardly manner?

The bottom line is that Klingoffer’s sin is not that it is remotely anti-Jewish or even anti-Zionist in any meaningful sense, or even that it is actually pro-Palestinian, but only that it does not conform to the anti-Palestinian ravings that are considered mandatory in a society so heavily influenced by boors like Abe Foxman and Myron Kaplan.  While the Met’s decision to capitulate to these pressures is pathetic, the optimist would hope that the almost universal criticism of that decision portends well for the future.

Addendum: Here is the Met’s form letter issued in response to a letter of complaint issued in that very brief period that it tried to defend the simulcast:

Dear       ,

Thank you for contacting us.

The Metropolitan Opera has championed the work of John Adams, one of America’s greatest living composers. This will be the third of his operas that the Met has presented over the last seven seasons. The Met is committed to presenting the finest works across the operatic repertory, as well as increasing the accessibility and relevance of the art form.

The Death of Klinghoffer is an opera about a terrible incident that has
become part of a pattern of violence that in the ensuing decades continues to repeat itself. Mr. Adams has said that in writing the opera he tried to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists, as well as in their victims. Tom Morris, the director of the Met’s new production, believes that the opera’s most important contribution is in providing an opportunity for the audience to wrestle with the almost unanswerable questions that arise from this seemingly endless conflict.

Since this opera dramatizes a horrific act of violence, the Met acknowledges that some members of its audience may disagree with the decision to present this work and the Met would like to assure its audiences that it is not endorsing any political views expressed in the libretto. However, the Met believes that in staging it, audiences are being given the opportunity to hear one of the best operas of the late 20th century.

Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with us.


Nicole Halton
Met Opera Customer Relations


About David Samel

David Samel is an attorney in New York City.

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28 Responses

  1. just
    just on June 20, 2014, 3:23 pm

    Very good observations, David Samel. Thank you for compiling this. I read and posted a bit of this article earlier, but here are relevant quotes for your article:

    “The New York Met this week cancelled its planned global telecast of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, the opera that portrays the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by the Palestinian Liberation Front in 1985. While emphasising that the work itself is not antisemitic, the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said that he recognised concerns among Jews “at this time of rising antisemitism, particularly in Europe”. Regardless of one’s view of either the opera or the Met’s decision, Gelb is unfortunately spot on about Europe.

    The Death of Klinghoffer neither condemns nor condones the execution of the American Jew Leon Klinghoffer by Palestinian terrorists. In the world of opera this may be acceptable. This may be the prerogative of art. In the real world not taking a stand against antisemitism is categorically not an option.”

    From a 2012 article with Alice Goodman:

    “And yet you can understand why Klinghoffer’s daughters hated the depiction of their father. Goodman tells me they could have been involved in the project but she resisted. “They had already been consultants for two docudramas.” One starred Karl Malden, the other Burt Lancaster. “So it seemed to me they didn’t really need a third. Also, having been advisers to these docudramas, they couldn’t really say this is all a private family matter because it had become part of the public discourse.”

    But her libretto gave voice to his murderers’ motives. “Yes. It was suggested that I was making excuses for murder.” Which she wasn’t? “No, I don’t think there’s any excuse. All the hostages had been moved on to the top of a covered swimming pool. Mr Klinghoffer’s wheelchair would not go up there. He was shot below decks and his body thrown into the sea. I think in many ways he was killed as a wheelchair user more than anything else.””

  2. Citizen
    Citizen on June 20, 2014, 4:14 pm

    Check out the Forward’s Art & Culture critic’s take on the issue
    “Apparently, the content of “Klinghoffer” is disturbing enough that it should be presented only to those willing to pay top dollar to see it.”

    Read more:

  3. Philip Munger
    Philip Munger on June 20, 2014, 4:17 pm

    John Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for musical composition in 2003 for his September 11th elegy, On the Transmigration of Souls. I wrote yesterday to each recipient of that same prize in subsequent years: Paul Moravec, Steven Stucky, Yehudi Wyner, Ornette Coleman, David Lang, Stev Reich, Jennifer Higdon, Zhou Long, Kevin Puts, Carolyn Shaw and (my longtime friend) John Luther Adams.

    Dear Pulitzer Prize in Music recipient,

    I am writing an open letter to each composer who has won the Pulitzer Prize in Music Composition since John Adams won it in 2003. I am asking you to support Mr. Adams.

    The Metropolitan Opera will present his second opera, The Death of Klinghoffer this fall. On Tuesday, the opera’s general manager, Peter Gelb, announced that the Met will not broadcast the opera, as had been planned. He bowed to pressure from censors.

    This doesn’t normally happen these days. Mozart had to put up with censors in the 18th century. Verdi had to put up with censors in the 19th. Shostakovich had to deal with them throughout most of his career in the 20th, and Aaron Copland was blacklisted from the movies for ten years for not snitching on his colleagues.

    Mr. Adams stated Wednesday, responding to queries about this censorship and its impact on how people understand this work, “‘I’m just afraid that most people will have a sort of Wikipedia opinion about this opera,’ he said. ‘They’ll say, “Oh, that’s the opera that’s been accused of anti-Semitism,” and leave it at that. And that’s really very sad — it’s very hard when something’s been stained with an accusation like that, it’s almost impossible to wash it out.”

    Thank you for considering my request.

    Philip Munger

    I haven’t received any replies yet.

    • just
      just on June 20, 2014, 5:25 pm

      I hope that you hear something from someone soon, Philip.

      It’s a good letter that should not be ignored. Perhaps the recipients are looking into their souls.

      I hope so.

  4. Citizen
    Citizen on June 20, 2014, 4:22 pm
  5. Daniel Rich
    Daniel Rich on June 20, 2014, 5:21 pm

    Perhaps a rewrite will do?

    How about “Yassin, a quadriplegic who was nearly blind, had used a wheelchair since a sporting accident at the age of 12.[15] He was assassinated when an Israeli helicopter gunship fired a missile at him as he was being wheeled from early morning prayers.[16] His killing, in an attack that claimed the lives of both his bodyguards and nine bystanders, was widely condemned and many observers suggested that the act would negatively impact the peace process.” LINK

    That worked out well, didn’t it?

  6. Daniel Rich
    Daniel Rich on June 20, 2014, 6:10 pm

    The next cancellation will be the NYT, because Even for the chronically slanted Gray Lady, the level of anti-Israel bias has been shocking

    If I’m anti-cancellation, am I pro-play, a player or being played?

    • lysias
      lysias on June 20, 2014, 6:49 pm

      That complaint against the NYT is from the New York Observer, owned by a fanatical supporter of Israel.

      • Daniel Rich
        Daniel Rich on June 20, 2014, 8:53 pm

        @ lysias,

        I found the line ‘the level of anti-Israel bias‘ quite comical. I like their sense of humor .)

  7. chris_k
    chris_k on June 20, 2014, 8:29 pm

    From Ari Ben-Menashe’s ‘Profits of War:’

    “The group’s methods were rather unconventional, one could say heinous, but it had operated successfully for years. An example is the case of the “Palestinian” attack on the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. That was, in fact, an Israeli “black” propaganda operation to show what a deadly, cutthroat bunch the Palestinians were.

    “The operation worked like this: Eitan passed instructions to Radi that it was time for the Palestinians to make an attack and do something cruel, though no specifics were laid out. Radi passed orders on to Abu’l Abbas, who, to follow such orders, was receiving millions from Israeli intelligence officers posing as Sicilian dons. Abbas then gathered a team to attack the cruise ship. The team was told to make it bad, to show the world what lay in store for other unsuspecting citizens if Palestinian demands were not met. As the world knows, the group picked on an elderly American Jewish man in a wheelchair, killed him, and threw his body overboard. They made their point. But for Israel it was the best kind of anti-Palestinian propaganda.”

  8. LuLu
    LuLu on June 20, 2014, 11:24 pm

    As a Arab American Muslim, I think the decision not to show this is a very good Idea and here is why… I watched the clip on here, and I was deeply disturbed (I NEVER watch anything that has any kind of violence or anything with cruelty, I am too sensitive seeing others suffer, race and religion does not matter, people are humans)
    Back to why it was good not to show this… PEOPLE ARE CRAZY, and will start spewing hate on Jews, they do not have the intelligence to differentiate that Jews and Zionism are not the same people. People will start saying hurtful and hateful things towards innocent Jews who absolutely had and do not have anything to do with the regime in Israel and are victims, as Zionist that are in support of oppression on Palestinians, I do not believe have a even a little empathy towards anyone but themselves. There will be a twisted sociopath who can harbor resentment and finally voices in their head will start talking to them to go and kill Jews… Theses people are what we call sociopaths and psychopaths.. Believe me there is a lot of them.
    The absolutely ONLY way the Palestinians will ever be free from Oppression is to get rid of their ENTIRE government from top to bottom ESPECIALLY ABBAS, he is a criminal and a puppet who only cares about getting millions from US and playing like he is doing anything.. Put someone in there that is crazier than Nuttyahoo and will not be a spineless puppet. Or Palestinian arm themselves and defend themselves. But innocent people die this way on both sides, is it worth it?> They can only answer this as violence is always NOT good.. Sooner or later God will intervene and none of it will look pretty at the end IF He does..

    What will eventually end up happening sooner or later is Zionism will be done, The problem is no longer the land, they are there, you can not just kick out millions of people.
    Stop allowing settlers, bring down your walls, ONE STATE for all three people, no Zionist Govt, No terrorist from either side, no Military every 2 feet on the street, and get along like you all once did. Whoever does not want to play nice and be peaceful should get exiled immediately.
    The oppression and torture and inhuman treatment of the Palestinian is what is digging a grave for Israel and sooner or later it will happen… Evil never wins. My brother was in complete shock when I showed him a video on You Tube of Jews getting beat up by Zionist, military, settlers, they were like a gang on one person and there was a lot of Jews being oppressed. It saddened me exactly the same as it would seeing a Palestinian. There Zionist are not even human, I ask how can a human being have a conscious to even do this daily to another human being?

    May God make the God fearing Jews over power the Zionist. Now I know the difference between Zionist and A Jew, everyone should educate themselves in the world because it is not fair or even moral to discriminate and hate on them when they are victims themselves and are innocent in all this.. God Bless them who speak for justice and stand up and speak against any oppression. You will truly find your reward with our Lord!!

  9. Donald
    Donald on June 21, 2014, 9:18 am

    I had a post I was going to ask Phil to put up, but think I’ll just put it here.

    This controversy is part of the larger picture of how the Israeli-Palestinian issue is discussed in the US. Even sympathetic treatment can be framed in a way that contributes to the same old stereotypes. I remember when I first heard about this opera many years ago thinking at first “Oh great, someone writes an opera involving the I/P conflict and it’s about a coldblooded murder of an American Jew by a Palestinian terrorist.” When I heard it was being criticized for “humanizing” the terrorists, it vindicated my opinion that this was a really stupid way to approach the subject. Adams was just inviting exactly the wrong sort of controversy.

    Artists are drawn to well-known events, and they have the right to do what they want, but it’s frustrating and in my opinion self-indulgent. Even if the opera itself does a superb job, and I haven’t seen it and don’t know, most people (including me) won’t see it. They’ll just read about the controversy and it’ll be framed in the following way–

    1. Palestinians commit terrorist acts. The basic premise of the whole discussion. No brutal murder of Klinghoffer, no opera, nothing worth staging. Adams didn’t center his opera around the Nakba or Sabra-Shatila or the bombing of Beirut in 1982 or any other Israeli atrocity.

    2. Palestinians may or may not have grievances, but do those grievances in any way equate to the murder of an American Jew? THAT becomes the question. Adams in the NYT yesterday goes to great lengths to show that he abhors what was done to Klinghoffer. Good, he’s right, but again, the only atrocity that makes it into the public debate is the one committed by a Palestinian terrorist. Palestinian “grievances” go unmentioned except in a generalized way, as incidents that are being used to “humanize” or make excuses for terrorists.

    3. Are people who sympathize with Palestinians antisemitic? No one even thinks to ask whether the people who claim this might themselves be motivated by anti-Palestinian racism.

    4. There’s the censorship issue, which might make the pro-Israel side look bad, and it does to some extent, but it’s a mixed blessing for the Palestinian side, because it suggests there is something disreputable about the Palestinian cause. People can be against censorship without supporting the Palestinian case, just as they might support the free speech rights of neo-Nazis. Who tries to censor pro-Israeli material like that tourism booster for Israel that keeps popping up on PBS? Nobody, or at least no one whose opposition makes it into the NYT.

  10. Walid
    Walid on June 21, 2014, 9:37 am

    “Are people who sympathize with Palestinians antisemitic? ”

    I’m very sympathetic to Palestinians, but I would not attend this opera; does that make me half-antisemitic? No matter in which light this opera was written and no matter how much it tried to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, the essence of this subject is the cold-blooded murder of a cripple. Glorifying it in any way is wrong. Would Adams write an opera about Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the half-blind 77-year old paraplegic that was assassinated in cold blood along with half a dozen innocent bystanders by Israel? One killing is just as horrible as the other and neither assassination warrants an opera being written about it.

    • Donald
      Donald on June 21, 2014, 1:14 pm

      Yeah,I see the point made by the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer as having validity, though I’m not sure if they have any sympathy for the Palestinians. But this is an absolutely horrible choice to make if one wanted to write an opera that deals in large part about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Adams took an utterly inexcusable atrocity where the victim had zero connection with the crimes of Israel, obviously killed because he was a Jew, and that’s supposed to be our gateway to understanding the conflict? Um, no.

      • Marco
        Marco on June 21, 2014, 1:31 pm

        I strongly disagree.

        The fact that educated people of a certain age will know the name Klinghoffer but might not even be able to name a *single* Palestinian civilian killed by the IDF is proof-positive of the power of Zionism.

      • Walid
        Walid on June 21, 2014, 3:08 pm

        Marco, it’s not so much about the power of Zionism as much as it’s about the weaknesses and shortcomings of the Arabs. They’d spend billions building mega monstrosities in the desert to flatter their egos, but they wouldn’t spend a few millions to hire a pro PR agency to polish their and the Palestinians’ image. Over 10 years ago, Syrian minister Bouthaina Chaaban told the Arabs to start attaching names to victims of Israeli killings to humanize them and to keep repeating those names over and over until the whole world understands the true face of Israel. They didn’t and they keep quoting numbers. Is there anyone in the world that hasn’t heard of Shalit, who was really a nobody soldier captured while on duty?

        Adams’ opera helped and is helping keep the story of Klinghoffer alive and every little controversy it provokes only serves the Zionist cause, not the Palestinians’ because it shows the Palestinians as barbarians. Do you know the names of the 4 terrorists that killed the cripple and do you care? This opera is a promo for Zionism.

      • Marco
        Marco on June 21, 2014, 3:29 pm

        It’s not just public relations Walid.

        Don’t kid yourself. People in the West, in the U.S., the average man or woman on the street, is more likely to favor Israel, because at a deep-seated, gut level, they often value Jewish lives more than Palestinian and Arab lives.

        It’s an ugly subject to broach, and it may be beyond the scope of this blog, but there it is.

        It helps explain American support for Israel, the invasion of Iraq, and much else besides.

      • Donald
        Donald on June 21, 2014, 7:42 pm

        “The fact that educated people of a certain age will know the name Klinghoffer but might not even be able to name a *single* Palestinian civilian killed by the IDF is proof-positive of the power of Zionism.”

        I’m not seeing where the disagreement is. Again, Adams wrote an opera which, I gather, gives some time for the Palestinian characters to go through some of what Israel has done to them. But it’s in the context of an act where Palestinians took an old guy in a wheelchair and threw him off a ship for the crime of being a Jew.

        I’m guessing Adams had good motives, but to me at least this is just about the worst possible way to present Palestinian grievances to an ignorant American world. Write an opera about the Nakba–humanize both sides. Have some of the Israelis be Holocaust survivors. We’d still have the usual suspects screeching about how horrible it was that anyone would even think to mention the Holocaust in the same work of art as the Nakba, but that’d be a piece of art worth seeing for the political content.

        (Of course the quality of the music had better be good, but that’s another matter.)

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka on June 21, 2014, 2:23 pm

      “Glorifying it in any way is wrong.”

      How is creating art with “it” as the subject matter “glorifying it.”

      Did Picasso glorify the bombing of Guernica?

      Does Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 glorify reprisal summary executions?

      • Walid
        Walid on June 21, 2014, 3:33 pm

        Woody, both paintings depicted the horrors of war suffered by the Spaniards at the hands of bad guys. Wasn’t Adams depicting the same thing about Jews and Palestinians, supposedly under the guise of demonstrating that there was something or other that drove the Palestinians to commit this horror? I haven’t seen this opera but from what I’ve read of it, I would’t want to. I doubt many people walking out of the theatre feel sorry for the Palestinians.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        Stephen Shenfield on June 21, 2014, 6:34 pm

        Compare this opera with Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”. The image presented of the Jew Shylock is on the whole repulsive. He insists on his “pound of flesh” — in effect, his contractual right to kill an insolvent creditor. On the other hand, he is allowed an eloquent speech in which he makes his desire for revenge humanly understandable. A consistent anti-Semite might condemn Shakespeare for inserting this speech. Nevertheless, the play’s overall message about Jews is highly negative.

        I leave the drawing of parallels with “Klinghoffer” as an exercise for the reader. I think they are pretty close.

      • lysias
        lysias on June 21, 2014, 8:04 pm

        So, would you be in favor of banning a broadcast of The Merchant of Venice?

      • Walid
        Walid on June 22, 2014, 2:19 am

        I don’t know what Stephen would do, lysias, but I certainly would not ban it but I’d have it labeled as they do on packs of cigarettes, as being a racist play. Jews weren’t the only ones targeted by Shakespeare, he did a much worse number on black Africans in Othello. But, as with Adams’ piece, idealists would have you believe that these works of art are really astute messages about social injustice.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka on June 22, 2014, 10:31 am

        Walid, my point was simply that depiction is not glorification just as explaination is not approval. (And, indeed, as satire exists, sometimes glorification isn’t glorification…)

        Accept of reject the message of the art as you will, but a complaint of glorification seems off base to me.

  11. MHughes976
    MHughes976 on June 21, 2014, 11:11 am

    Ballo in Maschera?

  12. LeaNder
    LeaNder on June 21, 2014, 12:57 pm

    Great contribution, David. Thanks.

    So far censorship in opera has not entered the Wikipedia space: Censorship of Music. At least not that I am aware of.

    Concerning Gaiseric comment. Obviously the opera space is much more worthy of censorship control for “the lobby” than popular music.

    But you made me curious, since strictly this is one of the events that kept me at a distance to the Palestinan narrative. It definitively did. The inherent collective punishment, was simply too reminiscent of the Nazis. That Klinghoffer was paralyzed adds to the horror.

    But the Guardian article made me curious about both opera and libretto. What sources did Goodman base it on? And suddenly I wonder, how could the hijackers know Klinghoffer was Jewish?

    A recent article by Robert Fisk, more mystification?

  13. wondering jew
    wondering jew on June 21, 2014, 1:46 pm

    recently there was a series with kelsey grammer called “boss” about a chicago mayor who combined daley, hoover and stalin and the plot lines and the motivations were all over the top and I called it operatic. Not a fan of opera myself but exaggerated villains and heroes and martyrs would naturally attract the operatic mind. the episode of leon klinghoffer was quite grotesque and I recoil when I think of sitting through this opera.

  14. Citizen
    Citizen on June 21, 2014, 4:33 pm

    Interview of John Adams regarding contextual historical research and preparation done for Klinghoffer, his POV as neutral, various aspects of what he and Alice Goodman tried to achieve, and a satirical part they cut out of the opera:

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