Fearing anti-Semitism, Met nixes ‘Klinghoffer’ opera broadcast

Fearing anti-Semitism, Met nixes ‘Klinghoffer’ opera broadcast

'The Death of Klinghoffer,' based on the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro, is said to justify Palestinian terrorism; live shows to run as planned

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Leon Klinghoffer, 1916-1985 (screen capture: Youtube)
Leon Klinghoffer, 1916-1985 (screen capture: Youtube)

New York’s Metropolitan Opera canceled its live transmissions of a controversial opera featuring the murder of a Jewish character by a Palestinian hijacker on Tuesday, amid fears the screening would stir up global anti-Semitic sentiment.

John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer,” which is based on true events, was set to be screened on November 15, 2014 to over 2,000 theaters in 66 countries worldwide.

The live production of the opera, first staged in 1991, will proceed as planned, with an eight-show run from October 20-November 15.

“I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic,” the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb said, according to Broadway World. “But I’ve also 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 anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.”

The show, directed by Peter Sellars, is based on the 1985 Palestine Liberation Organization hijacking of the Achille Lauro ship, and the murder of wheelchair-bound Jewish-American Leon Klinghoffer, 69, whose body was dumped into the ocean after he was slain.

The opera has been criticized for its sympathetic portrayal of the Palestinian killers, and stereotypical depiction of its Jewish characters.

Following its premiere and subsequent strong backlash, a scene from the original script that was said to be anti-Jewish was removed from all future productions. The show was the subject of a 2003 film adaptation by the same name.

The decision to cancel the live transmission was reached following negotiations between the Metropolitan Opera and Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman on behalf of Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Isla.


“Obviously from our point of view and from that of the Klinghoffer sisters, we would have hoped that the Metropolitan Opera would have stayed away from mounting such a problematic opera,” Foxman said. “We certainly did not want to see the Met production simulcast into theaters around the world. The Met was very open to hearing our concerns. After listening to our views, they have agreed to cancel the simulcasts and to take steps to ensure that the Klinghoffer family’s perspective is clearly heard by opera patrons.”

Both parties agreed that a statement from the Klinghoffers would appear in the playbill.

The Klinghoffer sisters said the opera “perverts the terrorist murder of our father and attempts to romanticize, rationalize, legitimize and explain it. The political approach of the composer and librettist is evident with the opera’s disingenuous and dangerous juxtaposition of the plight of the Palestinian people with the coldblooded, terrorist murder of an innocent disabled American Jew.

“We are strong supporters of the arts, and believe that theater and music can play a critical role in examining and understanding significant world events. ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ does no such thing. Its rationalization of terrorism and false moral equivalencies provide no thoughtfulness or insight,” a statement authored by the two said.

Prior to the cancellation, B’nai B’rith issued a condemnation of the event. “This opera crosses a line of artistic expression and promotes an offensive position. The Metropolitan Opera’s large audience, amplified by its live broadcasts to movie theaters nationwide, gives this anti-Semitic piece a large public platform,” it said.

The Metropolitan Opera’s general manager was contacted by a representative of CAMERA:Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America twice in May, who urged him to reconsider the screening of the show.

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