Is Death of Klinghoffer anti-semitic? And is it great art?

Is Death of Klinghoffer anti-semitic? And is it great art?


norman lebrecht

June 18, 2014

Unlike the US Jewish lobbyists who brought pressure on the Met to cancel the show, I have seen two full productions. I have also read the libretto and discussed the work with its composer, John Adams.

Over time, I have reached what I think is a reasoned view on both of the questions above. Click here to read my conclusions.


The Death of Klinghoffer


  • Brian says:

    “…the more so since EMI has become a feeder-house for the mighty Metropolitan Opera. ..”
    Norman, I think you might want to change that to “ENO.” Don’tcha just love auto spell-check?

  • Brian says:

    I think Taruskin got it right in 2001. My fervent wish is that Mr. Gelb will turn lemons into lemonade and instead give us an HD of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk on 29 October.

  • toml says:

    the cleansing of anti-semitism at the met must now be extended to the meistersinger hd broadcast- written by a notorious anti-semite. and what are we to make of beckmesser?

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Thank you, Norman, for the link to your article from 2012, which I read with great interest. I have neither attended nor heard a recording of “The Death of Klinghoffer”. Which is why I hope I will have the chance to experience the opera at the MET in November, and find out how it will affect me, intellectually, emotionally, imaginatively. It is a sad disaster for the MET to cancel the simulcast. The question whether the work is racist or anti-Semitic, and the narrow controversy which now ensues (again), is not the main point: it is, to me, deeply disturbing that the MET has failed to offer a broad range of opportunities for all who are interested to learn about the opera, and to engage in stimulating exchange of experiences and thoughts on the matters you raise in your article, and more importantly on how, and why, “The Death of Klinghoffer” needs to be heard, seen, and discussed especially in the US. To my knowledge, nothing has been done in terms of proactive, thorough and engaging information and education of the public. (in huge contrast to, for example, LA Opera’s tremendous work through hundreds of events during the months before and during its RING cycle in 2010). If this is so, then the MET has revealed itself as an institution void of intellectual vigor and curiosity, and thus has utterly failed to grasp the enormous potential for public education and debate on the many fundamental issues raised by this opera. Sadly, it becomes even more apparent that Peter Gelb lacks this dimension: it is simply not enough to have been a recorded music industry veteran without a college degree. Had there been a highly qualified Artistic Director at his side, things might have turned out differently. But, as you know, Peter Gelb has stated he is the artistic director, in an interview with Anthony Tommassini who dared to suggest such position. This is, in my opinion, a display of misjudgment and lack of self-knowledge of colossal proportions, with disastrous consequences for opera. I concede to Mr. Gelb that he is eminently able to generate absolutely terrible publicity for his house, and say the same of the MET’s board (whose members voted in favor of extending Mr. Gelb’s contract. That means they are happy with the stagnation-status quo, and are willing to spend their millions on a dying institution). Clearly, no one has any idea, let alone vision, as to how make it possible that the MET, and opera as such, has relevant things to say in the context of contemporary culture and society. I suspect we will need to look out for, and find, the small and regional houses, “die Provinztheater”, as the Germans say, to encounter what is so sorely lacking at the MET.