Metropolitan Opera Stifles Free Exchange of Ideas about a Propaganda Opera

A photo of a scene from the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” (Image source: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

On Monday night I went to the Metropolitan Opera. I went for two reasons: to see and hear John Adams’ controversial opera, The Death of Klinghoffer; and to see and hear what those protesting the Met’s judgment in presenting the opera had to say. Peter Gelb, the head of the Met Opera, had advised people to see it for themselves and then decide…

…I’m an opera fanatic, having been to hundreds of Met performances since my high school years. This was my third opera since the beginning of the season, just a few weeks ago. I consider myself something of an opera aficionado and “maven.” I always applaud, even flawed performances and mediocre operas. By any standard, The Death of Klinghoffer, is anything but the “masterpiece” its proponents are claiming it is. The music is uneven, with some lovely choruses—more on that coming—one decent aria, and lots of turgid recitatives. The libretto is awful. The drama is confused and rigid, especially the weak device of the captain looking back at the events several years later with the help of several silent passengers…

Then there were the choruses. The two that open the opera are supposed to demonstrate the comparative suffering of the displaced Palestinians and the displaced Jews. The Palestinian chorus is beautifully composed musically, with some compelling words, sung rhythmically and sympathetically. The Jewish chorus is a mishmash of whining about money, sex, betrayal and assorted “Hasidism” protesting in front of movie theaters. It never mentions the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, though the chorus is supposed to be sung by its survivors. The goal of that narrative chorus is to compare the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians—some of which was caused by Arab leaders urging them to leave and return victoriously after the Arabs murdered the Jews of Israel—with the systematic genocide of six million Jews. It was a moral abomination.

And it got worse. The Palestinian murderer is played by a talented ballet dancer, who is portrayed sympathetically. A chorus of Palestinian women asks the audience to understand why he would be driven to terrorism. “We are not criminals,” the terrorists assures us…

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