I really enjoyed the opera, even though it had some issues: too many in-and-out characters, structural problems like awkward transitions, and a few lulls in the score. But I did not find it to be even remotely anti-Semitic, as so many have asserted. (Coincidentally, I am reading Dickens’s Oliver Twist right now, and if anyone needs clarification on anti-Semitism they should revisit the Fagin character in that!) The opera, with music by John Adams and a libretto by Alice Goodman, concerns a real-life tragedy: the 1985 terrorist hijacking of the cruise ship the Achille Lauro which culminated in the heartless murder of a wheelchair-bound American Jew, Leon Klinghoffer, by members of the Palestinian Liberation Front. The polemic around the production began before the opera even premiered at the Met, when General Manager Peter Gelb was pressured to cancel the proposed televised broadcasts of the work. A strongly worded condemnation of the opera by Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, is included in the Met’s program notes too. But Klinghoffer and uproar are old friends by now, for there was much ado when the opera first premiered in America at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1991 as well. This controversy was examined (and the opera defended) in an essay by Robert Fink called “Klinghoffer in Brooklyn Heights” and published in the Cambridge Opera Journal in 2005—read it here.
I feel compelled to dispel the anti-Semitic charges lobbed at Klinghoffer this time around, for they are completely unfounded and I think it is a powerful work that deserves a place in the repertory. The fact that the story is true makes it all the more emotionally wrenching, so I could certainly