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Life Arts

The Death of Klinghoffer: Reflections on an Opera

By       Message Thomas Riggins     Permalink
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From flickr.com/photos/23542547@N07/13245737675/: John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer 1 - photo by Richard Hubert Smith, English National Opera
John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer 1 - photo by Richard Hubert Smith, English National Opera
(Image by Imagine Communications)
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All the recent fuss at the Metropolitan Opera over John Adams' 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer led me get the DVD from Netflix to watch. The DVD gave me the opportunity to start and stop and replay parts of the opera and the subtitles (even though the opera is in English) allowed me to follow the exact wording that was being used to express the ideas and emotions of the singers. The DVD is of the Penny Woolcock film version made for British TV in 2003 and is generally considered faithful to the staged version of the opera.

I think I can safely say there is nothing anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish or pro-terrorist about this opera. I can also say that those who claim that it is so have not seen it, or not understood it, or have a personal agenda to espouse having nothing to do with the merits of the opera.

In our political context in the US the main objection to the opera is that it is not anti-Palestinian either. The objectors seem to be of the opinion that you cannot be against anti-Semitism unless you are also for anti-Palestinianism. The opera takes a stand against terrorism qua terrorism and shows the futility and horror of trying to solve social and political problems waging terrorist actions against unarmed civilians.

The opera highlights three species of terrorism-- it sympathizes with none of them. It highlights the terrorism waged against the Jews of Europe waged by European Christians who formed the core of the fascist movements in World War II and led to the concentration camps and the Holocaust.

It also shows the terrorism unleashed against the civilian Arab population in Palestine by the Zionists after the independence of Israel when tens of thousands were driven from their homes and land and had their houses and fields turned over to Jewish settlers without recompense and many Arab men, women, and children were murdered by terrorist groups such as the Irgun led by future Prime Minister Menachem Begin: this was the Nakba.

And it shows the terrorism elicited by the Nakba in which the Palestinians engage. The high jacking of the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro and the cold blooded murder of wheelchair bound senior citizen Leon Klinghoffer is the subject of the opera and it makes no excuse or attempt to glorify the action of the terrorists involved: members of the Palestine Liberation Front.

The Germans and the Israelis have made peace and the Germans have paid reparations to try and make up for the unforgivable and impossible to make up for actions of their terrorist forebears. Perhaps Israel can do the same for those who were the victims of the Nakba and more recent acts of terrorism such as the killing of over two thousand civilians (including 500 children) in Gaza. Perhaps the Palestinian terrorists would reciprocate by stopping the killing of Israeli civilians including peaceful women and children.

If this opera has any message it is that terrorism breeds terrorism and is never justified as it diminishes the humanity of all who engage in it. The root cause of terrorism (one group's cruel and inhumane treatment of others) must be addressed without evasion and excuses.

 

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Born Lake Worth, FL 1942. Educated FSU and Graduate Center CUNY. Currently teaching philosophy in NYC. Associate editor of Political Affairs online.

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