After concerns were raised that its plans to transmit John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer might be used to fan global anti-Semitism, the Metropolitan Opera announced its decision today to cancel its Live in HD transmission, which was scheduled for November 15, 2014. The opera, which premiered in 1991, is about the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship and the murder of one of its Jewish passengers, Leon Klinghoffer, at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. Among the most vociferous critiques of the upcoming Met performance is a New York Post editorial by Ronn Torossian published yesterday.
“I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “But I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.” The final decision was made after a series of discussions between Gelb and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, representing the wishes of the Klinghoffer daughters.
Composer John Adams has released the following statement in response to the cancellation:
My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder. It acknowledges the dreams and the grievances of not only the Israeli but also the Palestinian people, and in no form condones or promotes violence, terrorism, or anti-Semitism. The cancellation of the international telecast is a deeply regrettable decision and goes far beyond issues of “artistic freedom,” and ends in promoting the same kind of intolerance that the opera’s detractors claim to be preventing.
The Met has previously presented John Adams’s other two major operas, Doctor Atomic (in 2008) and Nixon in China (in 2011). The Met will go forward with its stage presentation of The Death of Klinghoffer in its scheduled run of eight performances from October 20 to November 15. In deference to the daughters of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, the Met has agreed to include a message from them, both in the production’s playbill and on its website. The Death of Klinghoffer is the only opera by a living composer being staged at the Metropolitan Opera during the 2014-15 season. It is also the only work by a living American composer slated for next season. (The only other work by an American composer on the 2014-15 season schedule is Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress which was completed six years after Stravinsky became a United States citizen.)
In recent years, The Death of Klinghoffer has been presented at The Juilliard School (2009), the Opera Theatre of St. Louis (2011), and as recently as this March in Long Beach, California. The Met’s new production was first seen in London at the English National Opera in 2012, and received widespread critical acclaim. Responding to an irate letter in The Julliard Journal about that 2009 production, Juilliard President Joseph W. Polisi wrote: “If we had decided against producing Adams’s opera in an effort to not offend audience members, we would have ignored our mission as an institution and community that teaches and enlightens through the wonder and power of the arts.”