John Adams and Alice Goodman’s 1991 opera explores the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jew who was killed during the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by members of the Palestine Liberation Front. The Metropolitan Opera’ new staging of the play opened on Monday night, but long before the curtain was drawn, the drama had already begun, as the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations (and some guy named Rudy Giuliani) protested the Met’s decision to stage a show that they claim has anti-Semitic overtones and tries to justify an act of terrorism:
Angry protesters gathered across from the Met on the opening night of the opera season last month; a pair of public talks with members of the “Klinghoffer” creative team were quietly called off; and Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said that he had received threats related to the production. He recently sent an email to the opera’s cast expressing regret that they had been subject to “Internet harassment” and defending the work from its critics, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times. Many Jewish leaders, including liberals and conservatives, are finding themselves drawn into the debate. The Met’s attempts to calm things by canceling a planned transmission of the opera to movie theaters around the world this fall accomplished little — and may have fueled more criticism. Now “Klinghoffer” threatens to become the Met’s most controversial company premiere since 1907, when Strauss’s “Salome” was deemed outrageous and banned for decades.
Alex Ross, vitally, reveals the hateful illiberalism of the opera’s prime critic:
The most aggressive rhetoric came from Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a money manager who has also worked as a political operative. A few years ago, Wiesenfeld won notoriety for seeking, unsuccessfully, to deny the playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree, on account of Kushner’s criticisms of Israel. Wiesenfeld led the “Klinghoffer” rally, and he had much to say. “This is not art,” he thundered. “This is crap. This is detritus. This is garbage.” He declared, as he did at an anti-“Klinghoffer” event last month, that the set should be burned. He made a cryptic joke to the effect that, if something were to happen to Gelb that night, the board of the Met would be the first suspects.
Burning the set?