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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sailing Toward the Rocks

How the Met's Klinghoffer cancellation could wreck more than an opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Achille Lauro was hijacked by terrorists in 1985.
The Metropolitan Opera's abrupt decision to cancel the Live in HD broadcast and radio broadcast of John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer has already damaged the company's artistic credibility. The long-term costs could be even more serious.

In a tumultuous off-season that is centered on an ugly set of ongoing labor negotiations between general manager Peter Gelb and 15 of the company's 16 extant unions, the Klinghoffer story is a sideshow. It is another case of ham-handed public relations work by Mr. Gelb's staff. However, the cancellation, which has the ugly whiff of censorship, may have had a chilling effect on the Met's ability to fund-raise this summer.

Live in HD has been a central feature of Mr. Gelb's reign as general manager, spreading a selection of the company's Saturday afternoon performances to a global network of movie theaters. Earlier this month, the company announced that the Met's first production of Mr. Adams' opera would be withdrawn from the slate of planned broadcasts. " The company also opted to cancel the live radio broadcast of the same performance.

Mr. Adams' 1991 opera  recounts the 1985 terrorist hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro and the brutal murder of American tourist Leon Klinghoffer by the terrorists. The libretto, by Alice Goodman, offers and uncompromising portrait of terrorists and victims alike, and has been on the receiving end of accusations of anti-Semitism since the opera's premiere. As of this writing there are no plans to cancel the eight planned performances at the opera house which start October 2

In a statement, Mr. Gelb said that the Klinghoffer broadcast would be "inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism." However, the decision may also have been due to pressure from numerous pro-Israel organizations, and from Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer, the surviving daughters of the murdered man. More recently, these organizations, including the World Jewish Council and the Bnai Zion Foundation have continued to pressure the Met to cancel the performances too.

The cancellation of the Klinghoffer broadcasts may have an adverse impact on the Met's ability to raise crucially needed funds as it girds itself for an epic fight with its unions. The company has publicly stated that it is seeking cuts of 16-17% from its orchestra, singers and stage crew. The unions, particularly the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA, representing the choristers, dancers and singers) seem ready for a long labor struggle. Earlier this year, Met musicians (represented by Local 802) wore their union t-shirts to rehearsal and union pins to a concert by the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, an indication that the orchestra may be willing to stand fast.

Although Mr. Gelb has to reach collective bargaining agreements with 15 different unions, a prolonged strike by Local 802 (the orchestra) Local 1 (the stage hands) or AGMA could cause cancellations of August rehearsals and eventually performances in the fall. A shortened season would be an enormous disaster, and could even sink the planned eight performances of Klinghoffer.

The Met raises the bulk of its annual operating expenses from donors, both corporate and private. Opera subscribers are routinely contacted via telephone, e-mail and direct mail, with letters sent out to sell memberships in the Metropolitan Opera Guild. The company also raises a seperate fund to pay for the costs of the Live in HD Broadcasts, which add cosniderably to the company's exposure and ensure that the Met remains a major New York tourist attraction. With the Klingoffer cancellation, the Met has suddenly indicated that it is willing to kill its own stage content in response to pressure from interest groups.

That can't be good for business.

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