I was at both the protest outside the Metropolitan opera on Monday night, the opening night of the opera, sitting in a wheel chair, wearing a sign proclaiming “I am Leon Klinghofffer” and then inside as one of those attending the performance.
The protest outside the Met was important. And the lineup of 100 wheel chairs was an effective visual. The speeches were moving and on point: this opera by the Met will give support to anti-Semitism and to terrorism. It has disgraced the Met forever. Speakers called on people to never attend another Met opera as long as Peter Gelb, the Met’s managing director and ardent advocate of this opera, worked there. From this time forward, a subscription to the Met should be a badge of shame.
The Met had advertised, “See the opera and judge for yourself.” Well, I did precisely that, and the Klinghoffer opera is far worse than I had expected. It should first be emphasized that the opera is NOT about the murder of Leon Klinghoffer. That murder is little more than a prop. The opera is about the allegedly terrible suffering of exiled Palestinians caused by the Israelis .The opening chorus of Palestinian women sing a heartrending song about the loss of their homes. The sing: “Israel laid waste everything.” Then in the “unfair and unbalanced” way of this opera, the Jewish exiles enter. That is what they are labeled. Not Holocaust survivors. They sing that they used up all their money on taxis and that they have empty suitcases. They sing about their memories of Jerusalem which seem to consist of memories that the Hasidim protest movies. It is a mish mash. But it is unclear who these Jewish exiles are. The Holocaust is never mentioned. Nor are the refugees from Arab countries but from their dress, they appear to be Westerners. They used up their money on taxis! Are you kidding? I laughed out loud.
So the opera opens with the false equivalence of the Holocaust with the displacement of Palestinians in the 1948 war. Yet the Holocaust is never mentioned and the Jews are laughable and the Palestinians are incredibly moving, sorrowful figures.
The action takes place on shipboard with a background of the separation barrier erected, of course, after 2005, to keep out the terrorists who blew up buses, cafes, and family celebrations slaughtering and maiming thousands, with graffiti saying Free Palestine and Welcome to the Ghetto. The years annually are flashed across the stage ending in 2014, some 29 years after the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. So right from the start you know this is not about something that happened in 1985. This is a passion play about alleged Palestinian suffering both before and long after the Klinghoffer murder.
The Palestinian chorus is the main focus of the opera.The terrorists are romanticized and humanized, often in the most unrealistic and absurd manner. In the first act, one terrorist sings about how he loves to listen to love songs on the radio. he loves sad songs about love and lovers. later, another of the terrorists sits on deck singing about his love of birds. birds! At length he describes the habits of birds. In a subtle slap at Judaism, he lists the birds- ravens, eagles, cranes, etc. almost all the non-kosher species specified in the Bible as unclean and then proclaims them “clean”.
Other people on board the ship recount their memories. They were frightened but “at least they were not Jews”, a fairly chilling reminder of the acquiescence to the Nazis by Europeans or maybe it was a statement to the audience that they really had nothing to fear from the Palestinian terrorists because this was only aimed at Jews. Hardly convincing to a New York audience who still remembered 9/11.
The action on shipboard is periodically frozen to allow the Palestinians in black to march solemnly across the stage and act 1 ends with Palestinian men running round and round the Palestinian chorus with the Palestinian flag, reminiscent of Les Miserables.
In the second act, the Palestinian murderer of Leon Klinghoffer curls up in a ball on his mother’s lap while she and the chorus of Palestinian women lament their loss, reminding our psychologically tortured Palestinian that his mother and brother were killed in Sabra and Shatila. The opera fails to note that the massacres at Sabra and Shaitla were committed by Christian militias, not Israelis. The murderer’s brother was even decapitated. Just what Israelis do. No matter.
Our tormented “victim” writhes on the floor in anger and pain. He is an accomplished ballet dancer. Then he gets up and silently shoots Leon Klinghoffer. The opera depicts the murder as understandable righteous anger.
To anyone who recognizes that terrorism – the targeting of innocent civilians- can never be excused or explained away, this opera was nothing more than pro-Palestinian political propaganda. What was most distressing was that when the composer, John Adams, appeared he was greeted with loud applause. The Met seemed to have been sold out and the audience, for the most part, appeared to be supportive.
I am saddened despite all the national attention given to the justified protest at this opera’s performance by the Met.The production made clear that anti-Zionism often gives rise to anti-Semitism and vice versa. Leon Klinghoffer was not an Israeli; he was Jew and therefore he was understandably a target. The production was about the Palestinian cause, yet was punctuated at times with strange Christian symbols. For instance, the Jewish exiles’ efforts working the land in the second act results in the raising of two naked Christ-like crucified figures, replete with outstretched arms.
In this opera, it is the murderers who are the victims and Leon Klinghoffer is a mere prop to the Palestinian suffering. Klinghoffer is included so the viewer might be led to understand why Palestinian terrorism occurs. Klinghoffer’s murder is portrayed as justifiable rage unleashed on an accessible, but guilty by association, target. As the terrorists explain, they are “not criminals”. They are “idealists”.
As for the music and singing, it is so lugubrious and virtually all musically uninteresting recitative. No one would ever perform this as opera without the politics as agenda. If ever there was propaganda masquerading s art, this is it.