BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
They gathered outside the Met to say, “the show must not go on!”
About 400 protesters from across the City convened outside the Metropolitan Opera at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center on Monday to protest an upcoming production of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) spoke before the crowd, while Borough President Melinda Katz and U.S. Rep Grace Meng (D-Flushing) both issued written support.
“The Death of Klinghoffer” is an opera by John Adams. The Met plans to stage its production starting Oct. 20. The piece takes as its subject the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by members of the Palestine Liberation Front and the murder of one of its passengers, a disabled Jewish-American named Leon Klinghoffer.
Peter Gelb, Metropolitan Opera general manager, has stated that he regards the opera as a work of genius that handles a difficult subject.
But protesters of the production argue that the opera places the terrorists on an equivalent moral ground as their victim, and thus justifies, even glorifies, the killing of Klinghoffer.
“The sympathetic portrayal of the terrorists is an outrage,” said Jeff Wiesenfeld, who organized the protest. “Artistic freedom is not a value free judgement. You don’t pick and choose and select the people that are off limits and the people that you can rail against.”
“It would not be tolerated for any other ethnic group in the City,” Wiesenfeld added, a sentiment that was echoed consistently throughout yesterday’s protest.
Wiesenfeld said he has studied the libretto but has not seen a production of the opera.
Multiple speakers and protesters also pointed to the fact that, in his title, Adams refers to the event as a “death” rather than a “murder,” implying passivity and moral neutrality.
“The fact that ‘Klinghoffer’ grapples with the complexities of an unconscionable real-life act of violence does not mean it should not be performed,” a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Opera said in a statement. “’Klinghoffer’ is neither anti-Semitic nor does it glorify terrorism. The Met will not bow to this pressure.”
Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters have long fought the opera.
“[The opera] perverts the terrorist murder of our father and attempts to romanticize, rationalize, legitimize and explain it,” Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer said in a statement.
In June, the Metropolitan Opera canceled a simulcast planned to broadcast the opera to cinemas worldwide after discussions with the Anti-Defamation League, which does not view the opera as an anti-Semitic work but did see the broadcast as having the potential to promote anti-Israel sentiments and anti-Semitism.
Wiesenfeld said that while he cannot predict that the Metropoiltan Opera will cancel its production, he is optimistic that protests will inspire concrete results.
“I do believe that this will cause opera houses in most civilized parts of the world to think twice before they contract to show this piece,” Wiesenfeld said.
Army veteran Helene Van Clief found out about the protest through a Jewish War Veterans meeting.
“I think this is awful, I think this is disgusting,” Van Clief said. “And to blatantly do this because you think you can get away with it because it’s a Jew.”
Actor Tony Lo Bianco took the protest stage to speak against the staging of “The Death of Klinghoffer” in the context of recent violence by the Islamic State of Iraq, calling Gelb’s choice “counterproductive and naïve.”
“The responsibility, awareness and understanding of the times that we live in is critical to the decisions that you make, the words that you speak, the songs that you sing,” Lo Bianco said. “We are caught here between artistic freedom and downright poor taste.”
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.