The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams, opened at The Metropolitan Opera this week in New York City. This opera tells the story of the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jewish passenger in a wheelchair during the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, by members of the Palestine Liberation Front. Read more about the opera plot and production here. It is a heavy, dense historical display.
The opening on Monday evening was met with protestors standing outside, boos from some audience members after the first “Chorus of Exiled Palestinians”, and during the first half a man was escorted out for yelling, “The murder of Klinghoffer will never be forgiven”. At intermission a man was arrested for disorderly conduct and during the second half, and just after the murder scene, a woman shouted a vulgarity and left, accompanied by ushers. Read here about the excitement of opening night. It was an unforgettable night, for sure. Some people came to be heard, while others came to watch… And hear…history.
On one side of the coin there are people who claim that this show romanticizes terrorism and makes a spectacle of very tragic historical events in the past and political conflicts of the present. These statements are fierce and bold. They come across aggressive and angry. They place blame, point fingers and accuse people. Their language is anything but peaceful.
On the other side of the coin are those who stand up for the opera and it’s historical legacy. As found in a New York Times article, one rally attendee held a sign saying “A work of art about a subject is not a work in favor of that subject.” In this video, the director of this production, Tom Morris, says that the opera “dramatizes terrorism, it does not condone it.”
Isn’t that what theater is- dramatizing- presenting- showing you something? Isn’t that what our history books have done all these years… shown us what has happened in the past? If the issue then becomes how tragically horrific the content of this opera is, let me point out that we all read about the holocaust in our history classes… and the civil war, slavery, the assassination of MLK Jr. and President JFK.
And not only did we read about these horrors in school, but haven’t many of us watched movies based on these topics? Blockbusting hits that have gone on to win awards for their masterful way of telling these stories. These truly horrible stories. Just last year, Captain Philips and 12 Years a Slave came out and won awards. Tragic personal stories, that happened to real people. Yes, we watch these stories, mouths gaping at times, half closing our eyes, in awe that such things truly exist in this world.
What makes this opera any different? Why the protests? Why the claim that this art is worse than our history books or blockbusters? Don’t get me wrong, I point no blame towards the movie directors and producers. I think that they are telling important stories, using great mediums, get good attention. Aren’t these musicians, the singers, the composers and the directors all working towards the same goals as our history teachers were? Why the hostility towards these artists?
Comment below if you want! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Consider my mind boggled.
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