Klinghoffer director abandons phoney neutrality

Klinghoffer director abandons phoney neutrality


norman lebrecht

February 15, 2015

More than 100 artists have launched a new cultural boycott of Israel, declaring that ‘we will not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel. We will accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government.’

Most are the usual anti-Zionist fanatics, led by Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Miriam Margolyes and Mike Leigh. No classical musician of international rank has joined (though some may yet do so).

What is interesting is the appearance in the list of Penny Woolcock, director of the defining film of John Adams opera, The Death of Klinghoffer. From its inception, all involved in making this opera have maintained that it took an even-handed position on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ms Woolcock has now declared her bias: she is anti-Israel and her work on the opera was motivated by a one-eyed hatred of the Jewish state.



  • Jean Kalman says:

    Dear Norman , Ms P. Woolcock wasn’t involved in the ENO production of the Death of Klinghoffer. The director of the ENO production was Tom Morris.
    All the best

  • PaulD says:

    No surprise there. And don’t wait for a so-called even-handed opera called “The Death of Charlie Hebdo.”

  • John says:

    Penny Woolcock did not direct Klinghoffer for ENO – that was Tom Morris. She directed the stage production of a different Adams opera, Doctor Atomic, which was a co-production between ENO and the Met.

  • william osborne says:

    There has been much in the news of late about the Likud party’s new campaign clip warning Israelis that voting for left-wing parties will pave the way for an Islamic State foothold in Jerusalem. It illustrates part of the problem in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. After 70 years of war between Israel and Palestinians, rational perspectives on both sides are difficult to maintain. A neutral view is categorized by both sides as biased. War now feeds upon itself, which is the greatest danger Israel faces, and which is one of the messages in “Klinghofer.” Even Israel’s relationship with the USA is becoming a victim of this slow erosion.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Woolcock directed her film almost a decade and a half ago. A lot more trouble and strife have happened since then. She’s changed her mind in light of that.

  • Brian says:

    Taruskin was right about this opera 14 years ago and he’s still right.

    The Israelization of anti-semitism seems to be the going thing nowadays..

  • bruce eisen says:

    It is too much of a leap to consider Ms Woolcock’s present boycott position with an anti-Israel motive in a movie she directed years ago. I feel that the movie is pretty well balanced. Problem is that the most beautiful music is set in the first twenty minutes and it accompanies scenes in which holocaust survivors evict Palestinians from their homes.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Sadly, one no small cause of the increasing international isolation of Israel is found in its own current government, which seems even not to care anymore about the relationship it has with its only remaining ally, the US. The opera “Bibi goes to Washington” will come to us soon, and, frankly, it would have been better for the world had it not been conceived at all. But here we are, bound for what only can be described as disaster. Israel needs an adult in the room, urgently. Otherwise, it will suffer the utter erosion of the democratic principles on which it is founded. Bibi is not the desired adult, and never has been, and never will be.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    I agree with William Osborne.

    Brian, the Israelization of anti-semitism is, I am sorry to say, in no small amount caused by Israel’s current government and its radical supporters (who have nothing against beating up fellow Israelis, Jewish and Arab, who express their different opinions). It becomes increasingly impossible to separate a valid anti-Israel opinion from being labeled anti-Semite. That in itself is an extremely dangerous development, as we have witnessed on too numerous occasions, in Paris only weeks ago, and in Copenhagen yesterday.

    The opera “Bibi goes to Washington”, soon coming to Congress, is the paradigmatic expression of the disdain for decent democratic ways of behaviour between fellow democracies, especially allies, practiced by the current Israeli government in the person if its Prime Minister. The US is Israel’s only remaining ally on the planet, yet Bibi, in his recklessness (and yes, it is John Boehner’s characterless recklessness, too), is happy to jeopardize any progress in the current negotiations between the Obama Administration and the government of Iran to prevent the latter from developing nuclear weapons, so as to avoid more deadly nuclear proliferation.

    God help us when Bibi succeeds in further feeding his delusional self fulfilling prophecy. One thing is sure, as William has pointed out: war will, again, feed on itself – and that is the danger Israel faces as a democracy. It is, in my opinion, indeed one of the issues raised by John Adam’s opera. For Israel is very close to, or might even have begun already the irreversible descent into, ceasing being a democracy, as its current government has betrayed the democratic principles Israel is founded on and which it set out to practice.

    Israel under its current government is, it pains me to say, in grave danger to become both source and object of the evil hatred we had hoped would have been excised from humanity by now. Horribly, it isn’t, and it is rearing its ugly heads again, like Hydra, everywhere.

    I hope that, on March 17, the Israeli electorate will put the country on a track away from the abyss toward which it is currently steaming at full speed. The country needs an adult in the prime minister’s office. Bibi is not that adult, never was, and never will be.

    Thank God President Obama, with all his faults in international policy, sticks to keeping a cool head in dealing with Iran.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      A disgusting attempt to justify anti-Semitic murder and let’s drop the phoney more in sorrow than in anger hypocrisy

      • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

        Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur. (Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 75, a. 5; 3a, q. 5.). Your response reflects your state of mind, not mine. I stand by my post and see no reason to retract any of it. In addition: the observation that one of the sources of anti-semitism today is Israel’s current government is not mine, but that of a professor at Hebrew University, whose name I shall not divulge here to protect his safety. It is especially the current prime minister who quells any dissent, even that of fellow Jewish Israelis, as anitisemitic, thereby feeding exactly the sentiment he claims to oppose. It is a rather characterless manner to cling to power.

  • MacroV says:

    Mr. Lebrecht’s reasoning is very shoddy. John Adams wrote the opera, not Penny Woolcock. He has repeatedly insisted neither he nor the opera are anti-semitic or anti-Israel. Take him at his word.

    Ms. Woolcock made a film of the opera, nearly two decades ago. That through her experience over the ensuing years she decided to support boycotts of Israel does not make the opera anti-semitic.

  • baron z says:

    It has nothing to do with the current governments of Israel, that is just a cover. If Israel is not militarily mighty and vigilant, it will cease to exist. As long as it has enemies sworn to destroy it, how can it be accommodating, giving, lenient and play the lamb? It cannot. To do so defies all logic, yet so-called intellectuals expect it to do so. Why aren’t they boycotting the Palestinians and Arab supporters? They are anti-Jewish, plain and simple.

  • Stravinsky says:

    It seems, as if in a fascist regime, that it is not possible to critisize the Israeli government without being labeled “antisemitic”. The Likud party breaks Israel’s own constitution on a regular basis.

    • Simon S. says:

      Terribly wrong. Israel is criticized, day by day, all over Europe (I don’t regluarly follow American debates, so I can’t judge on that). Criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank has become a routine element of European politicians’ speeches on Middle East, just to put an example. And no sensible person, however (s)he might disagree, would call this antisemitic.

      There is however a form of hatred towards Israel (mislabelled “criticism”) which is clearly antisemitic – and it deserves to be called so.

      • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

        See my reply to your earlier post. That people who criticize the Israeli government does not make them antisemites is something you are obviously not capable and willing to comprehending. I encourage you to allow others to express their opinions here freely, without being insulted as antisemites.

  • Lucy Harbin says:

    If the terrorists aboard the Achille Lauro had gone off as half-cocked as the editor of this blog habitually does, the death toll would have been in the hundreds.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Your contributions here have not been meaningful either. Pot and kettle.