New York Jewish and anti-Jihadi activists staged a massive demonstration outside of the Metropolitan Opera on September 22 when “The Death of Klinghoffer,” composed by John Adams with a libretto by Alice Goodman, has its first performance. Although I am a serious opera fan and a strong believer in the First Amendment, I stand with the demonstrators.
The libretto presents a false and defamatory narrative of Jews and America; depicts an entirely untrue, unbalanced, and maliciously immoral history of the founding of the state of Israel-- especially in Penny Woolcock’s filmed version of the opera which won a prize at the 2003 Brussels European Film Festival-- an unbalanced narrative about the fate of refugees in the Middle East; flat-out blames the Jews for a massacre which Christian Phalangists committed in Lebanon; and explains and justifies why Arafat’s Palestinian terrorists murdered a wheelchair bound Jewish-American, Leon Klinghoffer (z”l), viciously, and in cold blood.
Here are some especially incendiary lines, sung and spoken by “Rambo” who is, in reality, not Sylvester Stallone, but Mohammed Zaidan:
You are always complaining of your suffering but where ever poor men are gathered you can find Jews/getting fat./You know how to cheat the simple/Exploit the virgin,/Pollute where you have exploited/Defame those you have cheated/And break your own law with idolatry. America is one big Jew.
But, what’s worse: The libretto is trite, often incomprehensible, flat-footed, and embarrassing.
However, the music is divine—invidiously, dangerously so. Adams has treated the Palestinian Chorus as if they are angels or Jesus himself. He has given them a musical “halo” a la Bach. His music elevates them and their cause (“they are men of ideals”), and has the power to seduce and mesmerize the listener.
Imagine doing this for the Islamic State, Boko Haram, or Al-Qaeda. Imagine the moral revulsion we might feel—but more important, imagine the consequences of normalizing such evil, so much so that one ends up siding with it. I fear that this, not censorship, is the real slippery slope we are on.
Once High Culture normalizes such atrocities, romanticizes or glorifies them, this is a sure and certain sign that our civilization is in decline. Think Rome. Think the Weimar Republic.
According to Phillip Kennicott, the chief art critic of the Washington Post, writing in the October, 2014 issue of Opera News, “We are, it seems, right back where we were in March 1991, (when this) opera was denounced by a broad cross-section of this country’s Jewish intellectual elite.” (The italics are mine). Kennicott, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a clever but mainly opaque justification for the opera, namely, that if the problem of Israel-Palestine is so intractable, then where better than in a “cultural space set apart from the noise” may we understand if not resolve such problems? He writes:
One feels a bit foolish and naïve saying that our only hope rests in works such as this one, with its mix of moral clarity and moral complexity….Art, obviously, isn’t a magical elixir that solves the problems of politics. Yet it seems everything else has failed. And if not art, then what”?
But there is no moral complexity in this opera. There are only Big Lies elevated by musical mastery. I read every line of the libretto. It in no way matches the music. For example:
“Thought, the sailor’s consolation,/Is surely the night’s analysis/of the impressions of the day…/To unbend and confide in foreigners/The special food, drink, candles, music, atmosphere, all warm the heart.”
The first three lines are clunky, the last line is a Hallmark Greeting card.
Is not the ocean itself their past?/Landscape of night for Him/…Deepsilted with the motes of carrion.”……/
Is not the night restless for them?/Smoke detectors and burglar alarms go off without reason, the taped voice unwinds in the widow’s/backyard.”
What is the librettist talking about?
I’ve never been a violent man/…/We are the kind of people you like to kill./Was it your pal who shot that little girl at the airport in Rome?/You would of done the same./There is so much anger in you./…/You don’t give a shit./You just want to see people die.”
Ah, it is Klinghoffer who curses and speaks in a crude American jingle jangle, not the killers, who are given more soulful lines.
There is only one place in which the Palestinian terrorists are shown for what they are and it is done so with Biblical knowledge. After the Captain suggests that the terrorists “(if you) talk like this sitting among your enemies peace would come.”
“The day that I and my enemy sit peacefully each putting his case and working towards peace,/That day our hope dies and I shall die too./My speech is slow and rough. Esau cannot argue.”
While it is important not to confuse the life or the character of the creator with his or her work, I find it very revealing that Alice Goodman, the librettist, has actually gone in record in an interview with The Guardian in 2012.
“While she was writing this libretto, “she sensed she was creating something extraordinary. ‘I was thinking I have never done anything as good as this! By God, I can write! It’s great! I’m going to become famous! I’ll write another opera! And another! And another! That’s what it felt like.”’
We are at the mercy of lesser talents, maniacs (in the sense of manic-ness), both in the West and most tragically, in the Islamic world today.
“When she was done, she was proud of her achievement. That’s what so hilarious. You always know when you’ve done something good—this is what I now find so funny—I assumed everyone else would.’”
Is this librettist a monster—or is she simply, and dangerously, out of touch?
The opera has received positive, mixed, and negative reviews. The negative reception “proved a devastating shock” to Goodman who, afterwards, “could not get work.” According to the politically correct Guardian, “the reviews damned the opera… and the controversy silenced her creativity for decades, depriving us of the talents of one of opera’s most poetic librettists.” (See the above libretto excerpts and make up your own mind).
Goodman is quoted as saying that “what upset (Richard Taruskin, the NY Times reviewer), was giving beautiful music to terrorists. People will love evil if we give terrorists beautiful music to sing and we can’t have that, can we? There’s a certain romanticism to the hijackers and that’s something, again, (Taruskin) picks up on. But the trouble is they think romanticism is good. Romanticism good, romanticism is attractive. I actually think the most dangerous thing in the world is romantic nationalism. Not religion, but nationalism.”
Get ready for it, here it comes.
“And if it’s true, it’s also true for Israel. Israel is not exempt from the problem I have with romantic nationalism. It’s an evil, it’s an evil all over the world.”
And thus, the librettist has appointed Israel and the Jews to bear the burden, to be the scapegoats for the “evil of nationalism.” Even as she and the various opera productions have followed the false Palestinian narrative to the hilt (the land belonged to them, the Jews stole it in an evil colonialist grab), neither Goodman nor the libretto nor the opera have focused on the evil of Palestinian nationalism or even upon its true nature i.e. that its intent is genocidal not merely “nationalistic.” Goodman did not choose to focus on British or German or American nationalism. Israel is meant to bear the burden for all the countries in the world.
The Jew is meant to die as a sacred sacrifice.
Of course, she demands that the “Jew” die. If not, she, as a Jewish convert to Christianity and an Anglican Priest, cannot theologically be saved.
Is 9/11 so long ago that the Metropolitan Opera cannot see that this opera romanticizes terrorism? Are the recent be-headings of Americans and Europeans by ISIS entirely irrelevant? Does the Board of the Opera House fail to see that this work justifies and humanizes Palestine Liberation Front terrorists who are the forerunners of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and ISIS; worse, it manages to “romanticize” such terrorists.
Why is Peter Gelb reviving this opera? If he, like I, loves the music so very much, why not have a symphony performance of it without words?
This is hardly the time to bring this opera to New York City.