Monday, October 20, marked the beginning of a new age of anti-Semitic propaganda. John Adams’ opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” held its first performance at the Metropolitan Opera – to the horror and disdain of the hundreds of protestors picketing outside. The opera aims to tell the story of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jew who was shot and thrown overboard by the Palestinian terrorists who had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro on October 8, 1985. However, Adams’ has claimed that the opera takes a “balanced view” with regard to the events that transpired that day and attempts to share the terrorists’ side of the story. To those who would argue that it serves as a platform for anti-Semitism, the MET’s general manager Peter Gelb suggests, “See it, then decide.” Many people heeded his advice, although not in the way he desired – opening night was continuously disrupted by protests from within the audience, as well as from the steps of Lincoln Center.
Adams and Gelb are not alone in backing “Klinghoffer”; countless journalists, bloggers, and others have come out in support of the show. If we, as American citizens, are to uphold the constitution, we must allow freedom of speech. Mr. Adams and all those who helped create this opera have maintained that the show is not anti-Semitic, but rather tries to show the reasoning behind the terrorists’ actions. This, they argue, is neither anti-Semitic nor encourages anti-Semitism, but rather presents a fair and balanced view of what occurred that day on the cruise ship. The director, Tom Morris, points out that “the job of dramatic art [is] to allow us to understand why people might do terrible things.”
While a balanced view may have been their aim, it was not what they achieved. In attempting to refrain from vilifying the Palestinians, the creators of the show have succeeded in humanizing the terrorists’ actions to a point where it seems as though the murder was not as heinous as it was. The Palestinians in the show sing of the loss of their homeland, protecting their brethren, and, of all things, bird watching. They are presented as freedom fighters attempting to further their cause, and not as the bloodthirsty murderers they were. Contrastingly, the Jews in the show are far less noble, focused on self-absorbed problems such as money and luxuries, complaining of discomfort and whining, at one point, about forgetting to bring a hat. These uninteresting, annoying characters serve as caricatures of the stereotypes Adams claims to be avoiding. The Jewish characters seem to be close-minded for not appreciating the terrorists’ cause, with the character of Klinghoffer himself calling them crazy.
The actors are surrounded on three sides by a set that mimics the Israelis separation barrier, representing hardship in the lives of the Palestinians. However, the wall that currently protects Israel’s border from suicide attacks only went up in 2006 – twenty years after Klinghoffer’s murder. If Adams is looking for an honest, balanced view of the situation, he should really try to be more historically accurate.
The title character’s real-life daughters – who were not asked for permission for the opera to be staged – were also distressed about the production, stating that they did not feel it accurately portrayed their father. They also accused the creators of using their father’s murder to market political propaganda. In an attempt at appeasement, the playbill includes a statement from them. However, a page in writing will, no doubt, have significantly less impact on theatergoers than nearly three hours of dramatic performance.
“The Death of Klinghoffer” should be put on hold, and its script and score reviewed, before any significant damage occurs. Art affects people. What is seen and heard penetrates the subconscious, pushing people into a certain frame of mind. Portraying murderers in a supportive light and offering motive for their actions humanizes them in a way they should not be. Thousands of protestors rallied prior to the opera’s opening night, and the protests continue to this day. The opera house cancelled its intended simulcast, as it was concerned that listeners might interpret what they were watching as anti-Semitic or pro-terrorist propaganda. This performance is causing more problems than it is worth. Adams, Gelb, and everyone else at the Metropolitan Opera would do best to put the show on hold and reevaluate its contents before something bad comes of it.