Sometimes this column takes requests, and several readers have asked me to comment on a recent decision by the Metropolitan Opera. I’m not very well positioned to comment on the decision. I’ll explain in due course.
Next season, the Met is staging The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera by John Adams. But the Met decided to cancel its broadcast of the opera to theaters around the world. A Met press release said that the decision was made after an “outpouring of concern” that a broadcast “might be used to fan global anti-Semitism.” The company’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said, “I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic. But I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that [a broadcast] would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.”
The press release noted that “the final decision was made after a series of discussions” between Gelb and Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, “representing the wishes of the Klinghoffer daughters.”
Adams’s opera is about the Achille Lauro affair in 1985. The Achille Lauro was an Italian cruise ship that was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, who singled out one passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, for murder. He was American. But that’s not why they singled him out: They singled him out because he was Jewish.
Klinghoffer was traveling with his wife, Marilyn, in celebration of their 36th wedding anniversary. They were in the company of several friends of theirs. Klinghoffer was 69 years old and confined to a wheelchair. The terrorists shot him and dumped him overboard.
Later, a lovely PLO spokesman said, “Perhaps it might be his wife who pushed him over into the sea to have the insurance.”
Thanks to President Reagan’s bold leadership and our forces’ derring-do, the United States managed to capture the terrorists (some of them). They were held, for a time, in Italian jail cells. Then, of course, they were released, one by one. Before that happened, Mrs. Klinghoffer was able to spit in their faces — literally, spit in their faces. She told this to Reagan. Soon after, she died.
She had set up a foundation, in conjunction with the ADL. For these many years, the Klinghoffers’ two daughters have been involved. The Met press release said that, in deference to those daughters, the company had agreed to “include a message from them both in the Met’s Playbill and on its website.”
Okay, that’s a very long set-up. Here’s my confession: I have not seen the opera. This, despite the fact that I am a music critic and have written about many other Adams works. It is almost my responsibility to see The Death of Klinghoffer
. But, frankly, I don’t want to. I didn’t want to see it when it premiered in 1991, and I haven’t wanted to see it since. I have read about it, of course. I’m sure there is good or creditable music in it. But I balk at going to see it.
For me, the Achille Lauro affair is not an opera. It is not a work of art. It is a terror attack. It is one I knew a lot about, at the time. I simply don’t feel like hearing a chorus of Palestinians sing about their grievances — all the injustices done to them by Jews. Not in this context. Not in the context of the murder of Leon Klinghoffer.
What did Klinghoffer have to do with injustices, real or imagined, committed against the Palestinians? Not a damn thing. Not one damn thing.
Thinking about the Adams opera — or the mere fact of the Adams opera — I’m reminded of a tremendous column that Leon Wieseltier wrote in the days after 9/11. Googling will give it to me. Okay, here it is. Wieseltier went after John Updike for writing artily and poetically about the terror attacks. About how the Twin Towers looked, as he stood or sat in Brooklyn and watched them fall. “Smoke speckled with bits of paper,” “strange inky rivulets,” and all that crap. Spare me. Save the poetry for later, much later.