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Monday, October 13, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Death of Klinghoffer

The Met presents John Adams' controversial opera for the first time.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Leon Klinghoffer, 1916-1985.
In the lead-up to the 2014 season Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb's decision to stage John Adams' 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer has drawn controversy, outrage and (on opening night) protests in front of the opera house. Mr. Gelb responded to the controversy by cancelling both the Live in HD telecast and the NPR radio simulcast of the show, so the only way to see or hear Klinghoffer is by going to the opera house.
John Adams made his reputation with the opera Nixon in China, which retold the historic summit between the 37th American president and Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung. For his second opera, Mr. Adams chose a far more sensitive subject, the murder of a wheelchair-bound American tourist by terrorists aboard the hijacked cruise ship Achille Lauro.

The death of Leon Klinghoffer happened on Oct. 8, 1985 as terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) attempted to use the passengers aboard the  hijacked cruise ship as human bargaining chips. Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old New York native celebrating his 36th wedding anniversary, was shot in the head and chest. The body (and his wheelchair) were thrown overboard.

The opera opens with a chorus of exiled Palestinians followed by a chorus of exiled Jews, in an attempt to use the murder as a "starting point" to examine both sides of the long conflict between those two groups in the Middle East. The transformation of these events into staged entertainment has drawn the ire of the Anti-Defamation League and the displeasure of Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer, the dead man's surviving daughters.

Mr. Adams' opera has been seen in New York as recently as 2003, in a semi-staged production at The Juilliard School. It is written in the composer's trademark minimalist style with small cells of melodic material built, repeated and augmented into cascading waves of sound. The cast features prominent basses and baritones including Alan Opie in the title role and Paulo Szot as the captain of the cruise liner.

This new production is a collaboration between the Met and the English National Opera. David Robertson conducts.

The Death of Klinghoffer opens Oct. 20.

Recording Recommendation:
There is only one recording of The Death of Klinghoffer in the catalogue.

Orchestra of Opera de Lyon cond. Kent Nagano (Elektra Nonesuch, 1992)
The Captain: James Maddalena

The First Officer / "Rambo": Thomas Hammons

Molqi: Thomas Young

Mamoud: Eugene Perry

Leon Klinghoffer: Sanford Sylvan

This is the sole recording of Klinghoffer featuring a cast of talented singers under the baton of conductor Kent Nagano.

Tickets for The Death of Klinghoffer are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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