So say that you have a wheelchair-bound 69-year-old New York Jew, a retired appliance manufacturer, on what probably would have been the last vacation he could take with his cancer-riddled, soon-to-die wife.
It would be logical for a Palestinian terrorist (oh sorry, do I mean militant? Or do I mean freedom fighter?) to shoot that man and then throw him and his wheelchair overboard, right? Nothing could be more likely to catch the world’s sympathy, could it?
So we already are in topsy-turvy land, where good is bad, evil is glorified, and the romance of underdog piracy on the high seas trumps decency. Hands down.
So what do we do with this ugly story? I know, guys! Let’s write an opera!
Somehow, astonishingly, the next steps in upside-down world were to take that jaw-droppingly outrÃ© murder and glamorize it, write an opera about it, and declare to the world that it is through this work that the nuances of the situation best can be explained.
Et voila! “The Death of Klinghoffer,” soon to grace the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center.
There are many heated voices raised to defend this production. According to the New York Times, in its September 19 editorial, “Music critics and opera lovers have found the opera, by John Adams, moving and nuanced in imagining a tragedy that gives voice to all sides, from the ruthless and aggrieved terrorists to Mr. Klinghoffer, an innocent Jewish-American who makes some of the opera’s most powerful points in denouncing violence as a political tool.”
There is no doubt, the Times editorial board no doubt would say, that it takes an unsophisticated mind to believe that if there are nuances to a dead body bound to a wheelchair bobbing and sinking in the sea, they are so subtle as to be meaningless. They most likely would go on to say that of course “all voices in this tragedy” should be heard; that murderers and victims have equal rights to our ears and our brains.
Others have pointed out that very few people actually have heard the opera, so how can any but the most Philistine among us possibly judge it? Nothing, my deah, possibly can be more important than art!
Although most of us have not heard “The Death of Klinghoffer,” and many if not most of us believe that there are some values even more important than every opera’s right to a full production on one of the world’s most pre-eminent opera stages, as it turns out our reviewer has.
Warren Boroson, a lifelong operagoer and longtime reviewer, wrote about a video of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” filmed in 2003, in our June 27 issue.
“I found the music to be unmelodious and unmemorable,” Mr. Boroson wrote. “Yes, ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ is obviously biased. The composer and librettist say that they had agreed to try to be neutral – pro and con Israelis, pro and con the Palestinians. Hence the title: not ‘murder,’ just ‘death.’ The late Samuel Lipman, a renowned music critic, wrote in Commentary: ‘[T]he pretense of not taking sides, of “even-handedness,” is just that – a pretense. For in treating the murder of Klinghoffer as a “death,” and in viewing the incident through the lens of moral equivalence, the opera for all practical purposes endorses the claims of the Palestinian assassins.'”
Mr. Boroson also quotes another music critic, Newsday’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tim Page, as calling the opera “pompous, turgid, derivative, and hopelessly confused.”
So we have an opera that is judged to be a failure musically and hopelessly biased historically set to open now, at a time when anti-Jewish sentiments, sometimes masked as anti-Zionism, sometimes unmasked, are running high and threatening to go higher still.
And we must not forget that although the opera causes abstract pain to many Jews and other decent people, it causes very real and personal pain to two real people. Those are Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, who have to add the indignity of this “nuanced” look at “both sides of this conflict” to the heartbreak of their father’s murder and their mother’s death, which followed closely after the murder and no doubt was hastened by it.
There also have been many voices raised against the opera. There were protestors picketing at Lincoln Center as the Met’s season opened on Monday, and there will be another demonstration when the opera opens on October 20.
One of the most powerful words against the opera came from Judea Pearl, whose son, the journalist Daniel Pearl, was slaughtered in 2002. He died for the same sin as Leon Klinghoffer – because he was a Jew.
“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 of savagery that the Met has decided to elevate to a normative, two-sided status, worthy of artistic expression,” Dr. Pearl wrote.
“I submit to you that choreographing an operatic drama around criminal pathology is not an artistic prerogative, but a blatant betrayal of public trust,” he continued. “We do not stage operas for rapists and child molesters, and we do not compose symphonies for penetrating the minds of ISIS executioners.
“No! Composer John Adams, some sides do not have two sides, and what was done to Leon Klinghoffer has one side only. 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.”
We agree. We hope without hope that Lincoln Center officials will be brave and honest enough to admit that they made a mistake, and withdraw the production. Barring that, we hope that there are no murderous, hate-filled ideologues enabled by it, and that no deaths result from it. There have been enough deaths.