Daniel Pearl’s father joins the anti-Met Klinghoffer protest

Daniel Pearl’s father joins the anti-Met Klinghoffer protest


norman lebrecht

September 22, 2014

Two days after the New York Times declared that the Metropolitan Opera was right to go ahead with The Death of Klinghoffer, the father of another Jewish American held hostage and murdered by Islamic militants has added his voice to the chorus of protests at a rally today.

Professor Judea Pearl’s letter reads:

The Death of Klinghoffer

In joining you today to protest the New York Metropolitan Opera production of this opera, I echo the silenced voice of my son, Daniel Pearl, and the silenced voices of other victims of terror, including James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and including thousands of men, women and children who were murdered, maimed or left heartbroken by the new menace of our generation, a menace that the Met has decided to accept and orchestrate as just another activity of normative civilized society, just another phenomenon worthy of artistic expression. They tell us that the composer tried to “understand the hijackers, their motivations, and their grievances.

I submit to you that there has never been a crime in human history lacking grievance and motivation. The 9/11 lunatics had profound motivations, and the murderers of my son, Daniel Pearl, had very compelling “grievances.” In the past few weeks we have seen with our own eyes that Hamas and ISIS have grievances, too and, they, too, are lining up for operatic productions with the Met.

Yet civilized society, from the time of our caveman ancestors, has learned to protect itself by codifying right from wrong, separating the holy from the profane, distinguishing that which deserves the sound of orchestras from that which deserves our unconditional revulsion.  The Met has smeared this distinction and thus betrayed their contract with society. I submit to you that choreographing an operatic drama around criminal pathology is not an artistic prerogative, but a blatant betrayal of public trust.

We do not stage operas for rapists and child molesters, and we do not compose symphonies for penetrating the minds of ISIS executioners. What we are seeing here in New York today is not an artistic expression that challenges the limits of morality, but a moral deformity that challenges the limits of the art. This opera is not about the mentality of deranged terrorists, but about the judgment of our arts directors. The New York Met has squandered humanity’s greatest treasure — our moral compass, our sense of right and wrong, and, most sadly, our reverence for music as a noble expression of the human spirit. We might be able some day to forgive the Met for de-criminalizing brutal minds, but we will never forgive them for poisoning our music — for turning our best violins and our iconic concert halls into mega-phones for excusing evil.


Slipped Disc supports the Met’s right to stage this production. The opera exists and has been staged in other countries. To perform it will provoke public debate on important issues. To suppress it would amount to a suppression of free speech.


  • Neil McGowan says:

    As I said before… is he going to protest about performing NABUCCO, because it shows the Jews in slavery in Ancient Egypt?

  • Mikey says:

    I cannot hep but wonder if Mr. Pearl adds his voice as yet another who has neither seen nor heard the opera in its entirety. The very group who began this whole tempest, and which caused the cancellation of the simulcast, admitted to never having seen nor heard the opera.


  • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    I am very sorry, but as much as I sympathise for Professor Pearl’s cruel loss and even his hate of the current fundamentalist Islamic movement that has so brutally manifested itself in the ISIS/IS in particular, I have to really disagree with his argument. Has he heard or seen John Adams’ opera about Klinghoffer and the tragic events of the Achille Lauro incident? His assertion that ” The New York Met has squandered humanity’s greatest treasure — our moral compass, our sense of right and wrong, and, most sadly, our reverence for music as a noble expression of the human spirit” is a rather unbalanced reaction to say the least.
    Yes, “Klinghoffer” deals with a subject that obviously has, sadly, even more relevance today than it had when it was written all those years ago. Yet at the same time it remains itself a very astute observation of the whole dilemma of the ongoing and historical problem of Muslim vs. Jew, of Israeli vs. Palestinian. The opera brings the characters involved in to an all too human light. Perhaps it is this that makes it a disturbing evening in the theatre. But without such works, without the raising of certain spectres through artistic expression, then there would be no stimulus to make us as human beings question the world we live in, the events that overtake us, or the dreadful inadequacies of us as human beings to deal with the roots and causes of such inhumanity that is so dreadfully apparent in our world today (and not just in the Middle East).
    “Klinghoffer” in no way justifies the events of the Achille Lauro incident, in no way justifies the murder of an innocent human being. What it does do is make us all ask “Why?”. Why are such events possible? What have people, governments, religious institutions done wrong that can drive people, drive other human beings to commit seemingly senseless acts of violence. Ultimately is gives no answer (what is the answer, but goodness sake?), but it does try to show that human kind is by its own fault and volition flawed, and that human kind – especially as manifested in governments, religious institutions and political institutions, should possibly set about to re-evaluate its sense of justice and compassion in a practical way rather than just uttering selfish dishonesties and platitudes.
    Perhaps my views are somewhat naïve, for which I apologise. But I honestly believe that the Met is absolutely right to mount the production of “Klinghoffer”, probably even more now than before, and I applaud their management in not bowing to the rather (as it seems to me) overblown political and religious self righteousness being thrown at it from certain quarters. There is no de-criminalizing of brutal minds going on in “Klinghoffer”, and there is certainly no poisoning of music or “.. turning our best violins and our iconic concert halls into mega-phones for excusing evil.” by performing it. To say there is, well that is just reactionary rubbish as far as I am concerned!

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Dear Ks. Christopher Robson: thank you for your comment. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Don’t worry about the typos. They reveal the passion with which your fingers flew across the keyboard as you tried to shape your thoughts into words. Both you and I know, and, I hope, many, many others together with us know, that music is the vessel with which things that cannot be said can be expressed. Which is why “The Death of Klinghoffer” has to be performed. not in the least because the atrocities committed by ISIS as I write. One could replace Klinghoffer with any Iraqi Christian, Yazidi, Sufi – the list goes on and on. Indeed, the opera asks fundamental questions, and we cannot not want to listen to them. Had the Met caved to the protesters and to Mr. Pearl (for whose loss of is son Daniel I feel deeply sorry) the extremists of every stripe and ideology everywhere would have carried the victory. It is sad to witness that amidst all the outrage the virtue of curiosity and of willingness to listen seems to be drowned in a vast ocean of cacaphony. This fact, too, makes it necessary to hear “The Death of Klinghoffer”. Unfortunately, I am likely not able to hear the Met performance myself (though I keep hoping against the odds). I recently acquired Penny Woolcock’s film, and intend to watch it and listen to the music and the words. I am curious about what kinds of responses it will elicit. On a Nabucco-note: A few years ago, I attended a performance at Venice’s La Fenice: the opera began with men, women, and children coming onstage carrying suitcases. It was a clear reference to the deportation of Venetian Jews during WW II. During the Prisoner’s Chorus, all chorus members, dressed in 1940s outfit, were on their backs on the stage, each singer carrying a framed portrait of a Venetian Jew who had been deported. As the music progressed, one by one the singers, while singing, sat up, moved toward the ramp, and put the portrait down. At the end of the chorus, all singers now standing in the midle of the stage and facing the audience, there was a long row, from stage left to stage right, of portraits: Jewish men, women, children looking at us, with the singers lending them their voices. One could hear a pin drop. Needless to say that, after the final beat of the opera, the audience rose to tremendous ovations. This was a Nabucco that I remember for life.

  • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    Sorry, this was written in a bit of a bate, so there are a few typo errors, etc.

  • Ben Miller says:

    We write great novels about child molesters without condoning their actions. Would Professor Pearl suggest that Lolita be banned?

    • newyorker says:

      Excellent – right on.

      Also, does he realize that by giving the Palestinian terrorist a voice in this opera, the composer has broadcast loud and clear much of the hatred that will make most audiences recoil in horror? By giving him a voice, he shows us exactly how perverted and flawed his perspective is. This is far from glorifying or decriminalizing it.

  • Stephen Owades says:

    In Nabucco, the Israelites are in captivity in Babylon (i.e., ancient Iraq), not “ancient Egypt.” And the ruler of Babylon, Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar) ends up converting to the Hebrew faith and returning the captive Israelites to their ancestral homeland. Not quite comparable to The Death of Klinghoffer, where the moral balance is much more ambiguous.

  • Ricci says:

    Mr Adams is a great composer, no question but this opera sucks. Not his best music that’s for one but while mr Gelb may show courage in putting up this ‘piece’ it also shows his incompetence by not realzing what the consequences would be. Nor do I not believe in censureship and yes go ahead with the opera gelb if you really need to but decent people should stay away and do not spend money on it. That’s best way to protest and make the people know WHY ur not going. Geld is also criminally insensitive to the surviving family of the victim and shows his lack of empathy. I’m all for performing Wagner in Israel too but not as long holocaust survivors live there and feel bad about it.
    The Klinghoffer family’s pain will again return in full blast (think about that defenders! you want the opera they his daughter’s pain too) and will it all be worth it for art’s sake? With all that money Gelb could have put many a beautiful work which all people could have enjoyed without causing discomfort and pain to a city.

  • newyorker says:

    “In the past few weeks we have seen with our own eyes that Hamas and ISIS have grievances, too and, they, too, are lining up for operatic productions with the Met.”

    Holy Jesus, this guy is on the wrong track.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Food for thought as I sit here listening to the Five Jews kvetching in Strauss’s “Salome” (Rysanek/Kempe, 1974). Nobody has called for it to be banned from stage productions. Yet.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Strauss’ Five Jews are scribes, if I am correct. Then they could be described as theologians. Unfortunately, it is a theologian who stands at the cradle of extreme Wahabism, which is the religious/theological/theocratical/political turf on which ISIS.ISIL/IS thrives. In the Catholic perspective, the late Viennese sculptor and painter Alfred Hrdlicka, who throughout his life expressed his fervent opposition against any political party, regime, or religious institution engaging in totalitarianism, minced no bitter humor when he created a drawing titled: “scholsatic dispute” – it showed three theologians/scribes, each neiled to a cross at their hands, while viciously trying to hit each other with their feet. I mention Hridlicka’s bitter commentary because I think it is as potent today as it was during the days he first showed it: the danger of literally being “stuck” in one’s own opinion/ideology/victimhood and victimhood ideology, etc. etc. If we start banning operas, plays, music works, songs, books – it will end in the utter totalitarianism of a political correctness which is as bad as any of the bloodthirsty ideologies the world has known. Therfore, Adam’s opera, opera and art MUST resist this tendency right at its beginning, weherever it occurs. Principiis obsta!

  • Perry Nodelman says:

    If we have to distinguish “that which deserves the sound of orchestras from that which deserves our unconditional revulsion’ then music is merely a frivolous triviality. Fortunately, it is much more than that, and capable of expressing the whole range of human possibility–often parts of it that rightly revolt us, and often in ways that help us to understand our revulsion.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    What is Rigoletto if not an opera about rapists and child molesters? (Not only that, but ones who get away with it and live, one may presume, happily ever after.)

  • gershon Hepner says:


    Let the supplanter look
    upon his work. Our faith
    will take the stones he broke
    and break his teeth.

    The lyrics Alice Goodman, music Adams,
    the Passion of St. John declared this too:
    the Jews are always blamed, the world needs totems
    for innocence presumed to them taboo.