Leaked emails: The Met’s defence of Klinghoffer

Leaked emails: The Met’s defence of Klinghoffer


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2014

Now the Met’s season is going ahead, opposition to its production of John Adams’s opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, has intensified. We have been forwarded a complaint by a Met supporter and a response by Ann Ziff, on behalf of the board of the Metropolitan Opera.

Read, and wonder.

The Death of Klinghoffer

Dear Ann and Members of the Board,


As a longstanding opera lover and patron of the Metropolitan Opera, I am writing to add my voice to the chorus of objection to your upcoming production of The Death of Klinghoffer.


I was shocked to be forwarded an email about the opera, including but not limited to the following:


In the opera’s libretto, there are passages that defame the Jews as a people. For example, the principal terrorist says, “Wherever poor men are gathered, they can find Jews getting fat. You know how to cheat the simple, exploit the virgin, pollute where you have exploited, defame those you cheated, and break your own law with idolatry.” 

At one stage, the terrorist leader says to Klinghoffer, “America is one big Jew.”


The opening scene honors terrorists. It is set against a backdrop of graffiti on a wall proclaiming “Warsaw 1943, Bethlehem 2005,” implying a moral equivalence between the acts of the Nazis and current day Jews.


While I support artistic freedom, the language is inflammatory and dangerous, particularly in a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world. There is no artistry in such language: it is the language of hatred and violence, and such words do not belong on the stage of one of the world’s greatest and most respected opera houses.


As leaders of the Metropolitan Opera, you have the opportunity to take a stand for world peace by canceling this production, rather than giving a platform to the voices of terrorism and anti-Semitism.


Sincerely yours,


(name withheld)


The Death of Klinghoffer


Dear (name withheld)


Thank you for your email about The Death of Klinghoffer, which may have been influenced by what I believe to be a wholly unfair disinformation campaign about the opera led by some radical groups that would like to have it suppressed.  But the opera is neither anti-Semitic or pro-terrorist.  In fact, it is one of the greatest operas of the last twenty five years, composed by one of America’s leading composers.  Peter planned this presentation of Klinghoffer five years ago as part of an overall artistic initiative to introduce all three of John Adams’ major operatic works at the Met.  Previously, as I am sure you know, we have produced Adams’Doctor Atomic and his Nixon in China.


Klinghoffer is arguably Adam’s best opera of all.  Although tackling a very difficult subject, it is a towering work of composing genius.  In this new production, hailed by the critics when it was first presented in London two years ago, there is no ambiguity in the staging that the murder of an innocent man at the hands of terrorists was manifestly unjust.  The lines you cite from the libretto are the words of the terrorists, and taken within the context of the entire opera, are self-condemning hateful words meant to prove their bias and slanderous views.


While there have been some requests that we cancel the performances, many prominent patrons of the Met—both Jews and non-Jews—have voiced their support of our position to stand firm.  The Anti-Defamation League and the Klinghoffer daughters, themselves, have not called upon the Met to cancel its presentation, since they agree that Klinghoffer does not deserve to be suppressed.  We believe that it would cause the Met far greater harm if we were to cancel its presentation, since such an action would indicate that we have surrendered our artistic principles.


In the Board’s opinion, great art should not be the victim of political imperatives.  I appreciate your writing me and the Board about this issue, (name withheld).  And I am glad to know from your email that you also stand behind artistic freedom.


As always, thank you for supporting the Met.  I look forward to seeing you in the fall.


Best wishes,





  • Galen Johnson says:

    “…a towering work of composing genius.” Okay. *shrug*

  • Emmanuel says:

    Well, we do know the complainant’s first name… 🙂 [Norman, perhaps it would be better to redact]

    I just wish the Met Board took the exact same line when it came to the cinema screenings.

  • Michael Volpe says:

    I find it amazing that people take the words of a character entirely out of context of the opera and try to have it censored and supressed. It is like, I suppose, taking the words of a slave owner character in a film like “Twelve years..” And saying it is a racist film.

  • Richard Schneider says:

    From Ann Ziff’s letter — The lines you cite from the libretto are the words of the terrorists, and taken within the context of the entire opera, are self-condemning hateful words meant to prove their bias and slanderous views.

    What be clearer than that? How does a librettist convey the vileness of some of his characters without giving them vile statements to utter? If we applied such an incomprehensible misunderstanding to films, 12 Years a Slave, one of the great films of 2013 would be condemned as anti-black and glorifying slavery and cruelty due the behavior of some of it’s characters.

  • Lendall says:

    Talking about music (instead of politics) for a moment, in my opinion Peter Gelb’s championing of Adams’ operas has been the great aesthetic crime of his administration. I wish that Sigmund Freud could have stuck around to hear Adams’, Glass’ and Ades’ music. He would have had a word for it: Wiederholungszwang,

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      I am afraid you succumbed to Wiederholungszwang. “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darueber muss man schweigen” – “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-philosophicus). I have not seen or heard the opera, and hope I will be able to do so, in order to come to my own opinion. I suggest we stop bickering about Adams’ “Death of Klinghoffer”. Those who do not like it, are not required to attend a performance, whether at the Met or anywhere else. They should, however, not be allowed to prevent those who want to experience the piece from attending performances, at the Met or anywhere else. It behooves a city like New York to not cave to any kind of censorship, especially regarding this opera.

    • Neil McGowan says:

      I wish that Sigmund Freud could have stuck around to hear Adams’, Glass’ and Ades’ music. He would have had a word for it: Wiederholungszwang

      Congratulations! You’ve joined the Slipped Disc Straw Man Club – of clairvoyant posters, able to make spiritual contact with famous figures of yore (via a ouijia board), and tell us reliably and certainly what they would have said, had they been alive today!! 😉

      The most gifted of your Club even supply us with verbatim quotes from Beyond The Grave!!!

      When you’re next in touch with him, could you ask Sigmund if he wants any cheese this week, and where he left the key to the dining-room clock??

    • William Safford says:

      I disagree.

      It’s a breath of fresh air to have new productions of new works at the Met. I enjoyed hearing Nixon in China several years ago.

      After the banishment of repetition as a structural element in music of the Second Viennese School, the pendulum swung the other direction. It was a relief to hear and recognize patterns again.

      I understood when the Boston Symphony canceled the performances of Klinghoffer just after 9/11, considering the connection between the act of terrorism and the family of a member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. (Disclaimer: that singer was a friend of mine in college.)

      However, that does not apply today.

      I look forward to hearing it live at the Met.

  • Hasbeen says:

    With respect, wether you like the music of John Adams or not, his music continues to be performed throughout the musical world and his operas deserve to be performed by one of America’s leadings opera companies. They reference contemporary subject matter and are a step in continuing to make opera relevant today. Bravo Peter Gelb for scheduling them.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    Apparently next season’s slated production of Verdi’s NABUCCO is also in trouble – because of that tasteless “Chorus Of Hebrew Slaves” number.

    I mean – what were they thinking of?! Gelb has already sent Verdi a very sharply-worded email about it.

  • william osborne says:

    Wiki has an interesting article about the most recent Gaza offensive. Both the exact number of people killed and the percentage of the dead who were civilians has been disputed, but I found some of the numbers interesting. *I’m not interested in debating the article’s information.* It has 410 footnotes for further reading. If nothing else, the numbers point to the relevance of John Adams and Alice Goodman’s opera:

    + Between 2,000 and 2,143Gazans were killed
    + These include about 500–578 children. (I’ve seen numbers as low as 400.)
    + Between 10,895 and 11,100 Palestinians were wounded
    + 66 IDF soldiers were killed
    + 5 Israeli civilians and 1 Thai civilian were killed
    + 450 IDF soldiers and 80 Israeli civilians were wounded
    + 520,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (approximately 30% of its population) have been displaced, of whom 485,000 needed emergency food assistance
    + 273,000 Palestinians took shelter in 90 UN-run schools.
    +17,200 Gazan homes were totally destroyed or severely damaged, and 37,650 homes have suffered damage but are still inhabitable.
    + The IDF killed 23 Palestinians in the West Bank
    + 2,218 Palestinians in the West Bank were wounded, 38% of them by live fire during protests.
    + In Israel, an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 citizens fled their homes due to the threat of rocket and mortar attacks.

    The Wiki article is here:


    In an interview on Democracy Now!, the Gaza Director for UNICEF said that about 1000 Palestinian children have received injuries that will cripple them for life. I hadn’t heard that stat anywhere else. The UNICEF Director’s observations are interesting and can be listened to or read in transcript here:


    I agree with Daniel Barenboim’s assessment that there can be no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • Maestro M says:

    A conductor passing judgement? What a laugh. Almost as funny as quoting propagandizing entries from the august Wikipedia.
    The Boston cancellation was due to the involvement of Vanessa Redgrave, as I recall.
    John Adams. About as important a composer as Keith Haring is an artist. Getting performed and produced is not a measure of quality or merit, but of connections, business-dealings and classical music as an industry.
    As for Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but sometimes an opera is just a stinking pile of crap.

    • william osborne says:

      Daniel Barenboim on his East West Divan Orchestra project:

      “The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn’t. It’s not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it. I’m not trying to convert the Arab members of the Divan to the Israeli point of view, and [I’m] not trying to convince the Israelis to the Arab point of view. But I want to – and unfortunately I am alone in this now that Edward died a few years ago – …create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.”

  • Stephen Owades says:

    The Boston Symphony cancelled performances of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex for which Vanessa Redgrave had been engaged, and then dismissed, as Narrator. This was years before, and unrelated to, the situation with choruses from The Death of Klinghoffer. I am a member of the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and I remember well both controversies. Shortly after September 11, 2001, we felt uncomfortable singing the Palestinian choruses from Klinghoffer (and we did lose a member of the extended chorus family on 9/11); I would like to see the entire opera at the Met this season, though.

  • harold braun says:

    1:John Adams is a truly great composer,as both Mr.Ades and Mr.Turnage are.
    2.Being jewish,I can only say taking the terrorists evil words out of context
    and their meaning in the dramatic moment of the scene is as ridiculous as
    labeling Verdi´s Nabucco as antisemitic because of Nabucco calling his forces
    to kill all hebrews!

    • naro says:

      In Nabucco the killers of Jews were not glorified or made into heroes. The writer of this libretto is an Episcopal priest who hated her Jewish religion and people so much that she converted to Christianity.

  • naro says:

    We must have a MASSIVE SIT IN to prevent opera goers from entering the opera house. The Met must be closed as long as antisemitism is condoned there.
    Jews will not be stepped upon and spit upon by a librettist who hates her Judaism to such an extent that she became an Episcopal priest, and has expressed contempt for Judaism and Jews in her life and in her work.