Editorial: The MET, The Death of Klinghoffer & Why Wagnerians Should Be Very Afraid

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 20 June 2014 | 7:59:00 pm

The Death of Klinghoffer: ENO 2012
"My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder. "It acknowledges the dreams and the grievances of not only the Israeli but also the Palestinian people, and in no form condones or promotes violence, terrorism or anti-Semitism." John Adams, June 2014

"The cancellation of the international telecast is a deeply regrettable decision and goes far beyond issues of ‘artistic freedom,’ and ends in promoting the same kind of intolerance that the opera’s detractors claim to be preventing."  
John Adams, June 2014

Peter Gelb has made a number of odd decisions over the last few years but surely none can be as dangerous to the arts and to freedom of expression, while also an insult to the intelligence of those opera lovers that view opera at the cinema (and one assumes DVD) and a direct insult to Europeans; as his cancellation of the live relays of Adams and Goodman's (the latter of whom is of course Jewish) 'The Death of Klinghoffer'.  Of course, the work in question has not been without "controversy" since its premiere. The accusation that it is somehow "antisemitic"  is an old and much disputed one (for the record I consider to not be so - for whatever that is worth. And while trying to present a complex argument that is not as simple as many would like to pretend, it is clearly 'against' violence.) But most importantly its creators have repeated many times that it is not an antisemitic work- as have any number of critics.
It must be assumed that in Europe (where we are surely sitting around our living-rooms praying at a home altar containing Mein Kampf; reading through very old, yellowing and dogeared copies of the Vőlkischer Beobachter’ while merrily whistling the Horst-Wessel-Lied), we will be even more effected in the negative
But even this is not the most worrying aspect. Let us look at what Gelb has said, which makes interesting and very confusing reading. First, Gelb  has stated that he believes the work is not antisemitic. In his own words, while announcing its cancellation; "I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic," Indeed, he reassures us that, "John Adams is one of America’s greatest composers and The Death of Klinghoffer is one of his greatest works.” And one is certain that if he had considered it antisemitic he would surely have not brought over  ENO's original production or at least cancelled all performances once he came to this conclusion. But he has not done this. Instead he has chosen to only cancel radio and cinema broadcasts. Why? Said Gelb, "I’ve become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising antisemitism, particularly in Europe.”

And here we have three important points: the work is not antisemitic according to Gelb - and its creators and critics - but because a small group believes it is (or in this case Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, who admits having never seen or heard the work and apparently is the 'international Jewish community'), he should go against all common sense and ban its transmission. Worse, somehow opera goers that attend the MET are intelligent enough to realize this is not an antisemitic work - or at least not become antisemitic having watched it -  but not those that might hear the work on the radio or in the cinema. Indeed so dangerous is the work to the precarious political and philosophical beliefs of  this audience that it might cause them to be  immediately transformed into raving, jackbooted, shaven-haired,  antisemitic loons. And this, according to Gelb, is much worse for Europeans. It must be assumed that in Europe (where we are surely sitting around our living-rooms praying at a home altar containing Mein Kampf; reading through very old, yellowing  and dogeared copies of the Vőlkischer Beobachter’ while merrily whistling the Horst-Wessel-Lied), we will be even more effected in the negative.
How long will it be before a similar argument is made against productions of "The Merchant Of Venice" or "Oliver Twist". And why stop at antisemitism? What about the deep class bias in 'The Wind In The Willows', the inherent misogyny of 'Cosi Fan Tutti', the clear racism in the "Magic Flute"?
The argument is clearly ridiculous and contradictory - if indeed it is an "argument". However, it also sets a dangerous precedent that must be of deep concern to anyone with an interest in Wagner - and others. I need not tell here of the 'nazification' of Wagner and his work. I should also not need to explain the insistence of a number of Wagner academics (and many, many more pseudo-academics) - despite any evidence - that many of Wagner's works are inherently antisemitic. Can it really be too long before we see a ban by the MET of radio and cinema broadcasts of Wagner's work based on an argument identical to what Gelb has said about Adam's work?

"I’ve become convinced that the live transmission of "The Ring" would be inappropriate at this time of rising antisemitism, particularly in Europe.” 

Indeed, arguments are already being made in certain parts of the media that the MET  must also ban their up and coming Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg;  a work being described as "filled with antisemitic messages". And least, should those with little interest in Wagner's work (or indeed 'opera') 'feel safe',  how long will it be before a similar argument is made against productions of  "The Merchant Of Venice" or "Oliver Twist". And why stop at antisemitism? What about the deep class bias in 'The Wind In The Willows', the inherent 'misogyny' of  'Cosi Fan Tutti',  the clear racism in the "Magic Flute"?

The MET and  Gelb have set a very dangerous - and deeply insulting -  precedent with this decision. One that means I, as a European, will be self censoring all MET radio, cinema and theatrical performances - I would, after all, hate to become a misogynist after seeing the latest MET Mozart production.

[Edit: It appears Foxman is now also claiming the work is not antisemitic. Instead it will in someway "inflame" antisemitism - especially in Europe.  This maybe some of the strangest Orwellian "doublespeak" that I have come across in sometime. It also makes as much sense as Gelb's rational]



Living St. Louis examines the production of “The Death of Klinghoffer”: a controversial and rarely-performed opera by composer John Adams. The work is based on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists and the murder of passenger Leon Klinghoffer. Opera Theatre of St. Louis premiered a new staging of Klinghoffer on June 15, 2011. In order to prepare patrons and the community, Opera Theatre also conducted a series of three panel discussions.