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.
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.
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.