Months before its scheduled performances this fall, the Metropolitan Opera’s planned staging of the John Adams opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” has engendered anger, criticism and highly charged emotions in the Jewish community.
The Met’s decision to stage a production of this opera, based on the events surrounding the horrific murder of our father, Leon Klinghoffer, at the hands of Palestinian terrorists has reawakened for us all of the raw emotions that attended the opera’s original 1991 U.S. premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and each production since.
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 between Palestinian and Jewish suffering provide no thoughtfulness or insight. Instead, the opera attempts to romanticize, rationalize, legitimize and explain the events of October 1985 by examining them through a biased prism.
Yet as deeply painful as the opera’s performance is for us personally — and as much as we would prefer that it not be performed — we appreciate the efforts of the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, on our behalf to ameliorate the impact of this production. In consultation with the ADL, the Met has agreed to take steps to acknowledge our objections and help to mitigate our concerns when the opera is staged this fall.
The Met will provide space in the program for a statement outlining our objections to this wholesale abuse of our father’s memory — and has just canceled plans to have the opera simulcast in more than 2,000 movie theaters in 66 countries around the world, thereby dramatically limiting the potential audience only to those who will see it in person.
While we disagree with the decision to produce this opera and we understand the impulse of those in the Jewish community who have called for the production to be canceled, we also recognize the right of the Met and others to present this work. The new arrangement will not satisfy all of the Met’s critics and certainly does not overcome our deep personal hurt and objections. Yet it does ensure the opera will have far less of an impact.
The stark facts of this crime must never be forgotten. Our father, 69 years old at the time, was brutally murdered in October 1985 after Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship while he and our mother, Marilyn, were on a cruise of the Mediterranean. Our parents, on the boat with a group of lifelong friends, were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary.
The terrorists seized the ship off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, and moved quickly to separate the American and British passport-holders, paying special attention to the Jewish passengers, whom they taunted and tormented. Our father was shot in the head and thrown overboard in his wheelchair.
When we first heard that Adams was composing an opera about the hijacking, we were wary, but tried to be open-minded. We attended the 1991 premiere and were sickened. Imagine our horror as we watched the “Leon Klinghoffer” character being shot and thrown overboard in slow motion, as the baritone portraying our father sings the “Aria of the Falling Body.”
This is a terrible perversion of our father’s murder.
Our father’s death was stark and brutal. His murderers were not soulful, thoughtfully conflicted characters, as in the opera’s production. They were hard-core terrorists, who used violence and hatred for base political motives. Those are the real facts behind the death of Leon Klinghoffer.
We hope that New York City operagoers keep this truth uppermost in their minds.
Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer live in New York City. The sisters founded the ADL Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation with their mother, Marilyn, in late 1985. The foundation works to combat the threat of terrorism through educational, political and legal means.