Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Death of Klinghoffer

MS Achille Lauro was a cruise ship based in Naples, Italy, that was hijacked by four members of the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985.  Apparently there were specific intentions for this hijacking involving sailing to Israel and killing Israelis.  This proved impossible.  So instead they shot a disabled Jewish-American passenger named Leon Klinghoffer and threw his body into the sea.

Then John Adams and his librettist for Nixon in China, Alice Goodman, decided to do an opera on the subject.  It premiered in Brussels in 1991 and then played at the San Francisco Opera in 1992.  I attended one of these performances.  According to Wikipedia, "The concept of the opera originated with theatre director Peter Sellars, who was a major collaborator, as was the choreographer Mark Morris."  That's Peter Sellars of Don Giovanni as a drug addict and Doctor Atomic as a bomb hanging in the air.  I never get him.

Why write an opera about such a disgusting subject?  I generally feel that the fact that Palestinians don't receive more sympathy stems from the fact that they have absolutely no sense of PR.  We aren't going to feel sympathy for people who kill crippled old people and throw them into the sea.  Elevating a disgusting act to a performance subject just makes the perpetrators seem all the more disgusting, no matter how hard the creators of this work try to make it seem even handed. Perhaps they are trying to create PR where it has so obviously failed.

I can understand that the Klinghoffer family might not wish their father's death to turn into this ridiculous media circus, but never at any time did this opera make me feel sympathetic toward his killers.  If I go to an opera about the most disgusting public act of my lifetime, I would like for that opera to attempt to engender the nausea I naturally feel about it.  It didn't.  So my question is, if it completely fails in its attempt at even handedness, is it still antisemitic?  When I was watching it, I didn't feel this antisemitism.  For me it was mostly just boring.


Paul said...

"Death of Klinghoffer" is no more anti-Semitic than "Les Huguenots" is anti-Catholic or "Le Vespres Sicilienne" is anti-French. Both the Meyerbeer and Verdi operas tackle the subject of murder because of ones (a) religion and (b) nationality. I could imagine how "Klinghoffer" fails to satisfy muically, as I generally find John Adams's compositions boring and unnecessarily discordant. But from having watched the three-minute online trailer and read reviews of last night's Met performance in both New York and U.K. newspapers, I'm even more disappointed that Peter Gelb caved to the critics and pulled both the HD transmission and the radio broadcast of this piece. The censorship of art sucks.

Dr.B said...

I would have gone. Maybe the production would have been better.