No one was trembling in their seats at the Metropolitan Opera premiere of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer on October 20. Taking no chances, the police presence outside the hall was considerable, and if you made light of it, the box office manager was quick to frown. “It’s for your own protection, sir.” But how can this Mayfly of a contretemps be seen as anything inflammatory? Every lens you view it through is skewed. A woman was introduced at the rally outside (protesters had been squeezed into the tiny strip park that separates Lincoln Center from Broadway) as a heroine for Israel. Through a bullhorn she shouted that “Peter Gelb, a Jew, has brought danger to all of us.” It would take the thinnest of skins and hottest of heads to remotely believe such a charge.
The most recent piece of bad news in the opera world is that the Metropolitan Opera has succumbed to pressure from several Jewish organizations and cancelled the international Live in HD telecast and radio broadcast of its new production of John Adams’s complex and controversial 1991 opera/oratorio The Death of Klinghoffer—which is about the Palestinian terrorist attack on the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. And because Adams, librettist Alice Goodman, and stage director Peter Sellars had the chutzpah to dramatize the points of view of the terrorists as well as the victims, some people, including Leon Klinghoffer’s two daughters, felt the opera was anti-Semitic.