So it’s happened. “Death of Klinghoffer” opened, despite all the protests.
First, let’s deal with the title, which is profoundly dishonest and disrespectful. Had it been called “The Murder of Leon Klinghoffer” it still would have been a startlingly poor choice for an opera, particularly given that Mr. Klinghoffer’s daughters, who are still very much alive, object to it strongly and clearly.
But it’s not. It’s called “The Death of Klinghoffer,” a value-free termination for a man undeserving of either a first name or an honorific. There is a message in that.
It is hard to get a firm idea of “Death of Klinghoffer’s” quality as a work of art. Our reviewer, Warren Boroson, who saw an earlier version, hated it, and so did many other reviewers whom he quoted.
Some reviewers liked it. Speaking on WNYC’s broadcast of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, David Patrick Stearns of the Philadelphia Inquirer and WQXR made it clear, in a voice so dripping with condescension that it was surprising that the radio speaker didn’t crack from the whiplash of his scorn, that only Philistines and other lowlives could not see its greatness. (Oh, and that review was followed immediately by the station’s fundraising appeal. Just sayingâ€¦) In the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini called it a “raw, penetrating, strangely mystical work,” and its opponents as misguided â€¦ well, yes, Philistines.
In the Times of Israel, on the other hand, Jordan Hoffman wrote that he “was seconds away from falling asleep.” Without opining on the controversy, he gave a big thumbs down to the artistry.
And no, we weren’t there. We did not have to be. This is not a question of artistic merit, but of decency, of a rejection of a moral equivalence that does not exist.
A few other points must be made. The issue of artistic freedom and freedom of speech always are brought up, with a flourish of invisible horns. The truth, however, is that although everyone is free to say almost anything he or she wants to say, up to yelling fire in a crowded theater, the idea that every opera ever written must be mounted is a totally different matter. Most novels remain in manuscript, most plays molder in attic trunks, most symphonies decompose in silence, and most operas are never produced – much less at the Metropolitan. There is neither world enough nor time.
But there was a fascinating show on display nonetheless. Its key actors were New York City’s former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, and its current one, Bill de Blasio. Mr. Giuliani is an operatic figure. In fact, he is his own self-contained opera, in which he frequently plays the part of villain and of buffoon, costumed generally as a man but occasionally as a woman, and in which he has been known, for at least one bright shining moment, to be the hero as well. Here, he was on the right side. And Mr. de Blasio, a tall, bumbling man who frequently finds his foot in his mouth, said that he was fine with the Met’s choice, citing freedom of speech.
“I think there is a serious problem today in the world that has nothing to do with this opera,” he is quoted as saying. “There’s an anti-Semitism problem in this world today, particularly in Western Europe, that worries me greatly. That’s where my focus is. I don’t think an opera is what the focal point should be right now.”
So here is the mayor of New York, saying that his focus is not on a controversy unfolding in New York but on something happening across the ocean. Thanks, Bill.