Politics & Policy

No night at the opera, &c.


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.

I realize, of course, that Shakespeare and everyone else has fictionalized real-life events. Well and good. But the Achille Lauro was fresh in my mind when Adams wrote his opera. It is not much less fresh now. If I were to have grandchildren or great-grandchildren, I’m sure they could watch the opera with equanimity. I doubt I could.

By the way, why is the opera called “The Death of Klinghoffer”? He died, true — but he was murdered. A better, truer title would be “The Murder of Klinghoffer.” A friend of mine pointed this out the other day, disgusted by the whole thing.

But my readers have asked me what I think of the Met’s decision to cancel broadcast of the opera. I guess I think that an opera worth staging is an opera worth broadcasting. And if it shouldn’t be broadcast, it shouldn’t be staged. I also think the Jews are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: Now they look like censors. “The Jews are muzzling us.” Great.

There is much more to say about this, from many angles, but I think I have typed enough now, and will move on . . .

‐. . . to more news from the Met: where Peter Gelb is locked in a mortal struggle with unions. He wants to save the company from bankruptcy. Gelb gave a very interesting interview to the very interesting Manuela Hoelterhoff, here.

Much of the world is screaming at Gelb now. I think of the early 1980s, when Reagan and Paul Volcker were squeezing the hell out of inflation. The world screamed at them, in pain. Then they thanked them. Something similar may happen to Gelb.

I wish him well and, honestly, the unions too.

‐This was a curious headline: “Biden: Gay rights take precedence over culture.” Huh? From the article, I learned that the vice president

told a gathering of U.S. and international gay rights advocates that President Barack Obama has directed that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women around the world.

“I don’t care what your culture is,” Biden told about 100 guests at the Naval Observatory’s vice presidential mansion. “Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice.”

I get it. I hope the vice president and his friends will remember that the next time the subject is female genital mutilation, about which some on the left have been very dainty or, let’s say, “understanding.” Must understand the radical Muslims, you know.

In his remarks to the “advocates,” did Biden disavow multiculturalism? If so, we’ve got news on our hands!

This is really sweet: “Iran is rushing to try to save one of the world’s critically endangered species, the Asiatic cheetah.” The mullahs really love animals. Maybe someday they’ll stop stoning girls to death for the “crime” of having been gang-raped?

‐Guess who’s got trouble on his left! Maduro! “Already grappling with street protests led by the right, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is facing a new threat from an unlikely place: old-school leftists who accuse him of betraying the socialist legacy that carried him to power.”

Heh. Maduro is clearly a squish, a CINO — Chavista in Name Only. (For the full article, go here.) May the redder Reds chew him up.

‐Let’s see, we’ve had a little music — a lot of music — up above. Want some language? This is an interesting article, from Rush Limbaugh country. Rush’s hometown, Cape Girardeau, is mentioned in the article.

“A small circle of history researchers is racing to capture the last remnants of a little-known French dialect that endures in some old Missouri mining towns before the few remaining native speakers succumb to old age.”

I wish I could hear it.

‐End with some sports? You got it. Padraig Harrington, the great Irish golfer, was asked whether poor putting was a symptom of old age. (He was quoted by the Associated Press, here.) He said, “I honestly believe the answer is no. And if the answer was yes, I’d still tell you no.”

Hmmm. Regardless — irregardless! — have a good weekend, y’all. See soon.

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