Metropolitan Opera Cancels Death of Klinghoffer Live HD Transmission

John Adams

John Adams (Photo by Christine Alicino, courtesy Boosey & Hawkes.)

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.”

15 thoughts on “Metropolitan Opera Cancels Death of Klinghoffer Live HD Transmission

    1. OhioViolin

      While I am no expert on this, I was under the impression that Wagner’s anti-Semitic beliefs had not been substantiated by any currently reliable sources. Regardless of the content of the work, it’s a shame that the general public (unable to attend the live performances) will not have a chance to judge for themselves.

      Reply
      1. Dean Rosenthal

        You should just read Wagner’s writings themselves. Like “Das Judenthum in der Musik”. He’s the most reliable source when it comes to his own, proud anti-Semitism.

        Reply
      2. sarhan

        Well, if “Wagner’s anti-Semitic beliefs had not been substantiated by any currently reliable sources”, what had been, then ?
        Wagner himself wrote a book about his hatred for jews, he said his life enemy was the triple J : journalists, jesuits, and jews, j he was friend with Chamberlain and Gobineau, and there are so many references to his strong anti-semitism in his works….
        And he is performed in the States as in Europe, every month, right ?
        So, this cancellation of The Death of Klinghoffer is a disastrous example of fear, stupidity, ignorance, lack of courage, and ultimately reinforces the pressure put on art for bad reasons (Adams explains very clearly his position, and his work is clearly NOT anti semitic, as the man has clearly NO anti semitic positions), and it reinforces this general attitude towards drabness in the opera world.

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      3. Merle Molofsky

        Wagner’s anti-Semitic beliefs are easily confirmed, since he published an essay he wrote, first under a pseudonym in 1850, and eventually in 1859 under his own name, “Jewishness in Music”, “Das Judenthum in der Musik”, which was a vicious attack on Jews, ranting about how Jews were corrupting pure German culture. In the essay he attacked Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer. He mocks the way Jews talk, and says that they couldn’t possibly compose good music because they can’t speak properly. He insists that of course Germans are repulsed by how disgusting Jews are.

        Reply
  1. Alvaro Gallegos

    Terrible news.

    The Met is one of your most important opera houses, and when finally an American piece is staged, they cancel the HD broadcast.

    In faraway countries is not easy to enjoy and appreciate contemporary opera, and this HD series offers a few chances, but now we’re going to miss this one.

    Sad, sad, sad.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Composer John Adams Protests Metropolitan Opera Cancellation Of Live Transmission Of His “Death Of Klinghoffer” « Movie City News

  3. Dean Rosenthal

    This is such a sad situation. When censorship takes precedence over artistic endeavor, no one wins. It would be one thing if an anti-Semitic organization wanted to broadcast Klinghoffer, but The Met has created a scenario that sets up a terrible precedent. I don’t see how Peter Gelb could possibly have been strong-armed by the ADL into canceling this, and yet he was. I’m disappointed – Jewish fears are often based on a mistrust and that’s what happened here.

    Reply
  4. David RODWIN

    As a Jew and as a composer I’m horrified at the Met’s decision. When arts organizations cave to pressures from extremist swho cannot bear artistic work that fosters political debate, they have failed.

    Reply
  5. Jim

    Good Grief! Since when is the ADL afraid of the reactions of stupid people? There’s nothing anti-semitic about the piece, which flatly condemns violence. The only people who would come away with anti-semitic views would have to have come in with them. Voltaire, anyone?

    Reply
  6. Jeff Lankov

    Oh, come on, people. This opera was a big fat issue in 1991, and in 2001, and apparently it is going to be an issue again. I understand all of the concerns regarding the sensitive topic of the opera–perhaps as well as anyone, considering that Adams’s music, which I spent years of my life researching, was the topic of my PhD dissertation. This is a topic that I know well, and am passionate about.

    I am a staunch defender of civil rights and human rights for everyone. If I felt that this opera was anti-Semitic, trust me: I would the the first person to denounce it, and would do so from the perspective of one who has an intimate knowledge of the work. If you want to condemn this opera for being anti-Semitic, I hope that you will do so ONLY after you have listened to it, read the libretto, and studied the score for YOURSELF. Everyone gets to have an opinion, and I hope that we won’t blindly follow the opinions of others (like Richard Taruskin).

    Klinghoffer is an important work–perhaps one of the most important works of the 20th century. Canceling the live transmission is a mistake. People should see this opera precisely because it broaches topics that need to be pondered, discussed, and debated; topics that are uncomfortable, controversial, ancient, and ongoing. Art should be relevant, not safe.

    Reply
  7. Lewis

    Rather than dwell on politics, I am more inclined to bemoan the fact that, despite there being numerous fine contemporary composers, the Met chooses exactly one, that one being a tired, uncreative, predictable choice.

    Reply
  8. Scott Rose

    It was pretty crass of the librettist and the composer to make a fictional character out of a real-life murder victim, using the victim’s actual name, while the murder victim still has surviving relatives.

    Reply
  9. Peter Schleger

    Mostly to Sarhan, The Met is an opera house and their first purpose is to stage operas. This they are doing with Klinghoffer. Do they owe the world or the arts or this opera anything else? Is every opera that the Met stages also specially broadcast to theaters?

    Reply
  10. Max

    Of course, this broadcast should NOT have been cancelled. This opera, even if it were guilty as charged (which it isn’t), should be shown to whomever wants to see it. If you don’t want to see it, then don’t.

    But what if instead of just canceling it, the the Secretary of State got in on the act and sent a SWAT team over to Adams’s house in the middle of the night to put a gun to his head and marched him blindfolded to jail, with the press tagging along?. That’s what happened in Sept. 2012 to someone whose art, like Adams’s art, was ostensibly feared to be offensive to religious sensibilities.

    A private company censoring itself is bad. A government that censors and terrorizes its people in a vain attempt at appeasement is infinitely worse. How many of you defended artistic freedom when it was Hillary vs. a video?

    Reply

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