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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A different take on the Death of Leon Klinghoffer

As you can see from the picture, there was a pretty substantial protest on Monday night outside the opening of the Metropolitan Opera's production of The Death of Leon Klinghoffer. Walter Russell Mead is far more knowledgeable about opera than I will ever be. I don't want to focus on his artistic review of the production, but rather on his comments on the demonstration outside and on the question of whether the opera itself should ever have been staged. Here's what he says about the demonstrators.
Not everybody in New York shared my opinion; protestors blocked the street in front of Lincoln Center and we had to pass through police lines and barricades to get to the show. The lines at the entrance stretched far out into the plaza as the ushers conducted unusually thorough searches of bags at the door. With protestors shouting “Shame! Shame!” and speakers addressing the crowd in heavily miked voices, it was easily the most dramatic moment I’ve ever seen at a New York arts venue.
The excitement continued inside; some of the people opposed to the performance had tickets, and dozens stood to boo or cry out slogans like “Klinghoffer’s murderers will never be forgiven!” at various points during the performance. For history of opera aficionados, it was like a revival of the nineteenth century drama in European opera houses as rival factions of fans cheered or booed politically or musically controversial works.
Or the 21st century at the London Philharmonic

Mead also has some on-point comments about the production itself.
The real problem, and it is a serious one, involves the decision by John Adams and Alice Goodman to use a family’s tragedy for their art without the permission of the family’s members. Leon Klinghoffer was not a public figure; nothing gave Adams and Goodman a moral right to profit from his death or to use it for political or artistic purposes of their own without the permission of his loved ones. The opera not only shows the death of Lisa’s and Ilsa’s father, putting words in his mouth, it presents a fictionalized portrait of their mother’s shock and reaction on hearing the news.
No family not already in public life deserves to have their most intimate and painful moments taken over and made into a public spectacle against their will. You couldn’t take liberties with Mickey and Minnie Mouse without having Disney lawyers come at you with cease and desist orders; Leon Klinghoffer’s family deserves more consideration than a fictional rodent and without in any way seeking to curtail free speech, one can regret the decision of two famous and well established artists to turn someone else’s private grief into a public entertainment.
If I were Peter Gelb, I would have declined to put the opera on, but not on political grounds. I would not have wanted to associate myself with what amounts to psychological rape, and I would not have staged it against the wishes of the murdered man’s family. Dehumanizing Leon Klinghoffer, turning him from a human being into a symbol in their political theater, is what the terrorists did on the Achille Lauro; John Adams and Alice Goodman echo this violation by trampling on the family’s privacy and wishes, stripping the Klinghoffers of their rights and dignity and using them as props. There were other ways to write an opera about the tragic conflict between the Palestinian and Jewish national movements.
Compare that with the New York Times' critic avoiding the issue
Yet, in death, Leon Klinghoffer became a public figure, an innocent but defiant hero, lost to what still seems like a never-ending conflict in the Middle East.
No, he didn't. He never made that choice in life, and his family - who were the only ones who could have done so - never made that choice for him in death.

Read the whole thing


Some of you might question why one of the labels I put on this post is "anti-Semitism." Please consider this Facebook comment from Steven Plaut:
Friends I need your help. I have written a new Opera and I need you to help demand that the Metropolitan Opera in New York stage it. It is an opera about the lynching of black people in Alabama and Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan. The opera presents the moral ambiguity of the struggle for self-determination of the Klan members against the harsh and cruel behavior of the pickaninnies. The opera is careful not to pick sides and it presents both sides with musical delight. After the Klansters lynch the darkies, they take off their hoods and paint themselves as minstrel singers to show their common humanity with the dead. I am sure you agree that this is a must performance that the Metropolitan Opera needs to stage! Write the Opera chairman today!
We all know that hell will freeze over before the opera suggested by Plaut is staged, don't we? 

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At 11:00 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

It's interesting that Alice Goodman was born he reform Jew who became a Christian priest. Give the Nazis some credit they sure didn't know who to pick to be kapos.
Somehow I expect Gelb to be of similar Ilk


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