Published Monday, October 20, 2014
Met Opera rejects antisemitism claims rising from Klinghoffer protests
- Demonstrators including Rudy Giuliani to gather outside Met
- The Death of Klinghoffer depicts murder of Jewish man in 1985
In the face of protests by politicians and Jewish organisations who have described it as “an operatic Kristallnacht”, The Death of Klinghoffer makes its debut at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera on Monday.
Demonstrators are set to gather across the street from Lincoln Center Plaza, where the Met stands, to protest against the opera house’s debut of a work they consider antisemitic.
In a statement, the Met said: “The rumours and inaccuracies about the opera and its presentation at the Met are part of a campaign to have it suppressed. Klinghoffer is neither antisemitic, nor does it glorify terrorism. The Met will not bow to this pressure.”
The Death of Klinghoffer depicts the Palestine Liberation Organization’s hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean in 1985. The hijackers killed one person in the incident: Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish retiree from New York.
The opera, written by the American John Adams, has been the subject of controversy since it was first performed in 1991. Two years ago, when it was staged in London, Alice Goodman, who wrote the libretto, told the Guardian that the furore had ended her career. She is now a rector.
The opera has had relatively smooth runs in recent years, including in Long Beach, California earlier this year. Complaints that have simmered since the Met announced it would stage the play have intensified in recent days.
The Zionist Organization of America has helped to co-ordinate the protests. The group’s president, Morton Klein, told the Guardian that Klinghoffer is “an operatic Kristallnacht” that fuels antisemitic attitudes.
“Obviously it is not the same level, but here you have an opera that is promoting hatred of Jews,” Klein said. He said that along with getting the opera cancelled, demonstrators are hoping to send a message to others not to put out plays they consider antisemitic.
A slew of former and current New York politicians are joining demonstrators, who are bringing in 100 wheelchairs. (Klinghoffer was disabled, and used a wheelchair). Organizers said the wheelchairs are “to dramatize the Met’s glorification of the terrorists who murdered a wheelchair-bound American Jew.”
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is the keynote speaker at the Monday evening press conference, scheduled for a two hours before the show. Congressmen Peter King and Eliot Engel, as well as the former New York state governor David Paterson and former US attorney general Michael Mukasey, are joining the protests.
Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, denounced the play after seeing it for the first time at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1991. Monday’s playbill will also feature a statement by the sisters, who said they were not consulted by the composer or librettist in the development of the opera.
“[The Death of Klinghoffer] offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew,” the sisters wrote. ‘It rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father.”
The Met announced in June that it was canceling plans to simulcast the opera to cinemas in November, and public talks with those involved in the production have quietly been cancelled. Cast members have been attacked on social media for participating in the show. The cast and crew were told that security had been ramped up in case protesters storm the production, according to the New York Times.
Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, maintains that the opera is not antisemitic, and has said he has also received threats about the show. “It’s not a glorification of terrorism,” Gelb told NPR. “Any work of art that deals with conflict has to be authentic, has to explore both sides of the conflict. It explains the motives of the Palestinian terrorists, but that doesn’t mean it supports them.”
In a statement, the Met said: “The Death of Klinghoffer deals with a difficult subject: the horrific murder of an innocent man during an act of terrorism committed in 1985. However, the fact that Klinghoffer grapples with the complexities of an unconscionable real-life act of violence does not mean it should not be performed.
“As a cultural institution, we unwaveringly support the freedom of artists to create responsible work that addresses difficult contemporary topics. We firmly believe that artistic explorations of politically charged subjects should be presented to the public without fear of censorship.”
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group, said the play is not antisemitic, but worked with Gelb to cancel the simulcast out of fears it would stoke antisemitic feelings in foreign countries.
The Met’s promotion of Klinghoffer contains some not-so-veiled references to the controversy, inviting users to share their comments about the production on the company’s website starting on Tuesday and encouraging people to: “See it. Then decide.”
A link to the original publishing of this article may be found here.