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June 25, 2014 0

Reactions to the Met’s Cancelation of ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Simulcast

Fol­low­ing the announce­ment by Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera Direc­tor Peter Gelb that the Met was can­cel­ing it simul­cast of the con­tro­ver­sial “Death of Kling­hof­fer” per­for­mance, due to con­cerns that the screen­ing could inflame the already ris­ing tide of global anti-Semitism or legit­imize ter­ror­ism, there have been strong reac­tions from all sides of the spectrum.

Many in the artis­tic com­mu­nity have long argued that the opera is purely a work of art and not a polit­i­cal state­ment, and num­ber of media out­lets and indi­vid­u­als have described the Met’s deci­sion as a capit­u­la­tion to pres­sure from out­side groups and indi­vid­u­als. They argue that the opera is not intended to glo­rify or even jus­tify the mur­der of Leon Kling­hof­fer, but rather offers an artis­tic per­spec­tive on the his­tory of the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict and the tragic events of the Achille Lauro.

Metropolitan_Opera_HouseFrom the NY Times edi­to­r­ial page:

“Art can be provoca­tive and con­tro­ver­sial. Many crit­ics of this opera have not actu­ally seen it, though they are cer­tainly free to express their con­cern or even out­rage. Their polit­i­cal and per­sonal views, how­ever, should not cause the Met to reverse its artis­tic judgment.”

Oppos­ing voices have argued that sim­ply can­cel­ing the simul­cast is insuf­fi­cient, and the Met should drop alto­gether the entire Fall per­for­mance of the “Death of Kling­hof­fer.” A num­ber of these indi­vid­u­als and groups claim that cer­tain scenes por­tray­ing the ter­ror­ists’ point of view are, at best, highly insen­si­tive to the Kling­hof­fer fam­ily, or, at worse, anti-Semitic. They argue that just as the Met would never per­form an opera show­cas­ing the “human­ity” of the 9/11 ter­ror­ists, they should not host one which attempts to human­ize terrorists.

From the NY Post:

“[Peter Gelb, the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera’s gen­eral man­ager] said, ‘John Adams has said that in com­pos­ing ‘The Death of Kling­hof­fer’ he tried to under­stand the hijack­ers and their moti­va­tions, and to look for human­ity in the ter­ror­ists . . .’ What human­ity can — or should — be found in the mur­der­ers of inno­cents? When do we get an opera paint­ing the 9/11 bombers as “men of ideals?”

In response to the wide­spread crit­i­cism of the Met’s deci­sion, Lisa and Ilsa Kling­hof­fer, daugh­ters of Leon Kling­hof­fer, wrote a let­ter to the New York Times defend­ing the Met. They argue that, while they strongly believe the opera triv­i­al­izes their father’s death and ratio­nal­izes ter­ror­ism, the Met did not capit­u­late to their request by can­cel­ing the simul­cast, nor do they sup­port the notion of cen­sor­ing an artis­tic event.

From their let­ter:

“The Met should be praised, not faulted, for tak­ing a step that will pre­vent this biased and flawed opera from appear­ing in 66 coun­tries, includ­ing in some regions where anti-Semitism is dis­turbingly on the rise. The Met did not “bow” to our wishes in can­cel­ing the global simul­cast sched­uled for this fall, but rather lis­tened to our con­cerns and acted appro­pri­ately. We are strongly opposed to cen­sor­ship and resent the impli­ca­tion that we would want to cen­sor an artis­tic event.”

Their let­ter con­cludes with a strong mes­sage about the dan­gers posed by ter­ror­ists to inno­cent civil­ians, and an impor­tant reminder to opera goers and oth­ers that “any effort to politi­cize that mes­sage is a dis­tor­tion of our father’s hor­rific death.”

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June 23, 2014 0

Answers to the FAQs on “The Death of Klinghoffer” Opera

by Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

Since the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera’s announce­ment that it would can­cel plans for a global simul­cast of the con­tro­ver­sial John Adams opera, “The Death of Kling­hof­fer” in response to con­cerns that the opera’s broad­cast to 66 coun­tries around the world could pro­mote anti-Semitism and legit­imize ter­ror­ism, there have been impas­sioned argu­ments on both sides of the debate. Some music crit­ics and fans have mis­un­der­stood — or mis­char­ac­ter­ized — our con­cerns about the opera, while oth­ers have ques­tioned why so many in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly the daugh­ters of Leon Kling­hof­fer, con­tinue to object to per­for­mances of this flawed and biased work.

AP/Kathy Wil­lens

Here is my attempt to answer some of the most com­mon ques­tions, and to clear up some mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing the Anti-Defamation League’s advo­cacy on behalf of the Kling­hof­fer fam­ily in work­ing to con­vince the Met that, given the sub­ject mat­ter at hand, a simul­cast of this opera in more than 2,000 the­aters world­wide would be ill-advised at this time of ris­ing anti-Semitism around the world.

  • Who was Leon Kling­hof­fer, and what exactly hap­pened to him?

The ter­ror­ist mur­der of the 69-year-old, wheelchair-bound Amer­i­can Leon Kling­hof­fer in 1985 was a water­shed event for Amer­i­cans and Amer­i­can Jews who were then mostly unaf­fected by ter­ror­ism. Klinghoffer’s death was sense­less and hor­rific. Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ists took over the Ital­ian cruise ship Achille Lauro on Octo­ber 7, 1985. The ter­ror­ists, affil­i­ated with the Pales­tin­ian Lib­er­a­tion Front, sep­a­rated the Amer­i­cans and the British cit­i­zens from the more than 400 peo­ple on board. Kling­hof­fer and his wife, Mar­i­lyn, were on the cruise with a group of 11 friends cel­e­brat­ing the couple’s wed­ding anniver­sary. The fol­low­ing day, on Octo­ber 8, the ter­ror­ists viciously shot Leon in the head and pushed him in his wheel­chair over­board into the Mediter­ranean Sea.

  • Why is the John Adams opera such a light­ning rod?

The opera jux­ta­poses the plight of the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple with the cold-blooded mur­der of an inno­cent dis­abled Amer­i­can Jew, and attempts to take this bru­tal act of ter­ror­ism and ratio­nal­ize, legit­imize and explain it. The opera has been a source of great dis­tress for the Kling­hof­fer fam­ily and par­tic­u­larly his daugh­ters, Lisa and Ilsa, who co-founded a memo­r­ial foun­da­tion at the Anti-Defamation League that works to com­bat the threat of ter­ror­ism. They strongly believe that the opera is a ter­ri­ble dis­tor­tion and triv­i­al­iza­tion of their father’s death.

  • Do you believe the opera is anti-Semitic?

No. While the opera is highly prob­lem­atic and has a strong anti-Israel bias, it is not anti-Semitic. A scene fea­tured in the opera’s 1991 pre­miere, in which some of the Jew­ish char­ac­ters exhib­ited stereo­typ­i­cal behav­ior, was removed by the com­poser and to our knowl­edge has not been fea­tured in any pro­duc­tion since that time.

  • Is it true that one of the char­ac­ters in the opera makes anti-Semitic remarks?

Yes. In Act 2, Scene 1, the char­ac­ter of “Rambo,” the ter­ror­ist who sub­se­quently shoots Leon Kling­hof­fer, sings an aria in which he taunts Leon with anti-Semitic invec­tive. We do not view this openly artic­u­lated ani­mus toward Jews as pro­mot­ing anti-Semitism; rather, it exposes Rambo’s and the hijack­ers’ entrenched and destruc­tive anti-Semitism. Other operas, films and plays fea­ture char­ac­ters whose anti-Semitism is part of their char­ac­ter and part of the plot’s devel­op­ment. In such cases, the char­ac­ter is anti-Semitic, but the opera, film or play is not.

  • If the opera is so offen­sive, why didn’t you ask the Met to can­cel the entire production?

We reached a com­pro­mise. In my dis­cus­sions with Peter Gelb, the Met’s gen­eral man­ager, I empha­sized that our great­est con­cern would be that the opera, in reach­ing such a large audi­ence through the Met’s high-definition simul­cast, would reach into coun­tries where anti-Israel atti­tudes are at an all-time high and anti-Semitism is resur­gent. Mr. Gelb under­stood this, but defended the work on its artis­tic and musi­cal merits.

While not every­one will be pleased with the out­come, I believe that this was the best solu­tion given the fact that the opera will now only be seen by patrons attend­ing the pro­duc­tion at Lin­coln Cen­ter in New York. More­over, the Met has vol­un­teered space in the Play­bill pro­gram for an essay by the Kling­hof­fer daugh­ters explain­ing their point of view. It should be noted that other recent pro­duc­tions, such as one staged ear­lier this year by Long Beach Opera in Cal­i­for­nia, have made sim­i­lar accom­mo­da­tions to the Kling­hof­fer family.

  • Isn’t this a form of censorship?

We don’t believe so. In Amer­ica, the First Amend­ment guar­an­tees the right to free­dom of expres­sion, and the com­poser John Adams cer­tainly has the free­dom to write any opera of his choos­ing. But the First Amend­ment also gives us the right to raise our voice, and to appeal to the con­science of those who mount pro­duc­tions of the opera or any work of art, to do so respect­fully and responsibly.

  • What con­di­tions glob­ally have made the air­ing of this opera in the­aters so fraught with risk? Isn’t anti-Semitism largely a thing of the past?

In the United States, it is true that anti-Semitism is at its low­est recorded lev­els in his­tory. But con­di­tions are much dif­fer­ent in other parts of the world. In Europe, a ter­ror­ist who said he wanted “to kill Jews” recently opened fire in the Jew­ish Museum, killing four peo­ple, and we have recently seen a rise in the num­ber of anti-Semitic attacks against Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. Our recent Global 100 sur­vey of anti-Semitic atti­tudes in 100 coun­tries around the world found that 24 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of West­ern Europe har­bors anti-Semitic atti­tudes; the num­ber was even higher, in East­ern Europe, at 34 percent.

The con­tin­ued elec­tion suc­cess of far-right par­ties in the recent Euro­pean Union elec­tions has also height­ened con­cerns about the rise of xeno­pho­bic and anti-Semitic polit­i­cal par­ties. Play­ing into this dan­ger­ous envi­ron­ment, we feared that the opera could reaf­firm hate­ful views of Israel and of Jews, par­tic­u­larly among those who already are infected with anti-Semitism.

  • I heard you haven’t seen the opera. How can you com­ment on a pro­duc­tion you haven’t seen?

While I haven’t per­son­ally seen the opera, numer­ous experts on anti-Semitism and the Arab-Israeli con­flict on the ADL staff have, and our objec­tions are based on their analy­ses and a full read­ing of the libretto.

  • So why object to this opera, and not to per­for­mances of oth­ers in the canon, such as Richard Wager’s “Der Meis­tersinger,” which some say embraces com­mon anti-Semitic stereo­types once preva­lent in 19th Cen­tury Germany?

Wagner’s operas are unde­ni­able mas­ter­pieces. He was a flawed genius whose anti-Semitism came through in his volu­mi­nous writ­ings and may have been woven into the ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work of some of his operas. But Wagner’s opera are fic­tional and mod­ern per­for­mances are con­tex­tu­al­ized with com­men­tary, and his operas are no longer con­tro­ver­sial or con­tentious. “The Death of Kling­hof­fer,” how­ever, por­trays a real and prac­ti­cally cur­rent event that is, even by the composer’s own admis­sion, used in the opera to make a larger polit­i­cal point that many Jews find offen­sive. The fact that some have taken to twit­ter to make anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks in the wake of the Met’s announce­ment shows how this opera still has the poten­tial to bring out man­i­fes­ta­tions of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attitudes.

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