Hamodia does not review operas. It doesn’t endorse going to any opera. But a new production is so insidious as to demand a response.
On October 7, 1985, Palestinian terrorists shot and killed Leon Klinghoffer, aged 69, a wheelchair-confined Jewish New Yorker. The murder took place aboard the Achille Lauro, a cruise ship the terrorists had hijacked, demanding the release of 50 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for the ship and its passengers. After his murder, the terrorists threw Klinghoffer’s body overboard. Klinghoffer was on a cruise with his wife, Marilyn, celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. The Klinghoffers were looking forward to their daughter Ilsa’s wedding later that year.
The terrorists killed Klinghoffer because he was a Jew. It made no difference to his murderers that he was a helpless invalid, an American citizen and a World War II veteran. The murder was a barbaric act of cowardly, unadulterated anti-Semitism.
Yet, despite the fact that Klinghoffer’s murder cannot be justified by to any standard of civilized society, the New York Metropolitan Opera scheduled a production of an opera called “The Death of Klinghoffer” for the fall season. The opera, according to The New York Times (which, not surprisingly, supports the production), “gives voice to all sides.” In one scene of the opera, a terrorist sings: “We are / soldiers fighting a war / We are not criminals / and we are not vandals / but men of ideals.” Equating victim with victimizer, Peter Gelb, director of the Metropolitan Opera, wrote in a letter that “John Adams [the opera’s composer] 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.”
Exactly what “sides,” “humanity” and “ideals” were there in that horrific murder of a wheelchair-bound Jew? Would the Metropolitan put on a production of the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and give equal voice to his killer, James Earl Ray? Certainly, Ray had some twisted perspectives, but his vile racist viewpoint wouldn’t and shouldn’t be given a forum for expression that would equate it with the principles of equality espoused by Dr. King.
Given the importance for all sides to be represented, would the Metropolitan Opera produce a play about 9/11, putting the thoughts and words of the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed in Shanksville, Pa., into operatic libretto? Hopefully, not. The concept would be reviled and ridiculed by any sane, civilized standards. All funding for such a production — and, for that matter, for the Metropolitan Opera itself — would be immediately pulled.
“The Death of Klinghoffer” is an shameless attempt to justify the savage murder of a Jew at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.
The odiousness of the opera’s attempt to give equal time and moral equivalence to the murdered and the murderer was expressed by Klinghoffer’s daughters when it was first produced in 1991: “We are outraged at the exploitation of our parents and the coldblooded murder of our father as the centerpiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic.
“Moreover, the juxtaposition of the fight of the Palestinian people with the murder of an innocent, disabled American Jew is both historically naive and appalling.”
Bowing to some of the criticism, the Metropolitan Opera has decided to shelve its plans to broadcast the opera in theaters across the globe. In his concession to the pressure to yank the broadcast (which the New York Times, always reliable in its bid for moral relativity, laments), Gelb said that showing the opera worldwide would be “inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.”
That decision proves that even its producers are aware the opera has a dark and hateful message. If the Metropolitan Opera would presumably recoil at the thought of producing anything that smacks of racism, bigotry or anti-Semitism, why should opera watchers around the globe misconstrue “The Death of Klinghoffer” as anti-Semitic any more than they would “The Barber of Seville”? It’s only because the play is most definitely anti-Semitic and would further arouse and inflame anti-Semitic passions in Europe.
The Metropolitan Opera, along with its apologists, keeps insisting that the production is art. The Times, in its support of the opera, tries to hush critics with these vapid words: “Art is provocative and controversial.”
“The Death of Klinghoffer” has about as much redeeming art value as the suicide-bomber museum that opened in Paris last year. The Metropolitan Opera has to understand that hate expressed in an opera format has nothing to do with art, and everything to do with bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism.