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Metropolitan Opera braces for ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ opening

"The Death of Klinghoffer" in an image released by Metropolitan Opera from its production in New York.
“The Death of Klinghoffer” in an image released by Metropolitan Opera from its production in New York.
(Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera/AP)

As the Metropolitan Opera prepares to open “The Death of Klinghoffer” next week, the venerated New York institution has found itself in a media frenzy over the controversial John Adams opera.

With protests expected on opening night, the Met is bracing for what could be its most divisive production in recent memory.

“Klinghoffer,” set to open on Monday, dramatizes the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists and the subsequent killing of Jewish American passenger Leon Klinghoffer.

Earlier this year, the Met decided to cancel its November simulcast of the opera to cinemas around the world due to pressure from the Anti-Defamation League, which feared the opera could stoke anti-Semitism.

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The cancellation of the simulcast prompted a wave of criticism, with some calling it a form of artistic censorship. Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, has spent much of his time since then defending both his decision and the opera itself.

In a recent appearance on local news station NY1, Gelb said “we didn’t expect it to be controversial to this extent.” The Met’s staging is a co-production with London’s English National Opera, which unveiled the new production two years ago to little controversy.

But New York is a different story. Klinghoffer was a New York resident and his daughters, who disapprove of the opera, are locals. New York is also home to the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.

Gelb told NY1 that he is an admirer of Adams, whom he called “the great American compsoer of opera today.” Under Gelb’s leadership, the Met has produced Adams’ “Doctor Atomic” and “Nixon in China.”

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A report from the New York Times on Wednesday revealed that Gelb has received threats over “Klinghoffer” and that he sent an email to Met employees expressing regret that some of them have experienced online harassment in connection with the opera.

In September, protesters gathered near Lincoln Center to air their disapproval of “Klinghoffer” during the Met’s season-opening night performance of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Protestors held signs that read “The Met Opera glorifies terrorism” and “Opera justifies attacks on America, Israel, Jews.”

“Klinghoffer” has provoked controversy since its world premiere in 1991. But in recent years, stagings have come and gone with little protest, including one by Long Beach Opera earlier this year.

Los Angeles Opera was one of several companies that co-produced the original “Klinghoffer” production, but the company has yet to stage the opera.

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Twitter: @DavidNgLAT


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