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Opera transmission cancelled to avoid anti-Semitism

John Adams's "The Death of Klinghoffer" has its Met premiere on October 20, 2014, conducted by David Robertson and directed by Tom Morris.
John Adams's "The Death of Klinghoffer" has its Met premiere on October 20, 2014, conducted by David Robertson and directed by Tom Morris.
English National Opera Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

A June 17, 2014, press release from the Metropolitan Opera announces that the company’s “Live in HD” transmission of “The Death of Klinghoffer” by John Adams, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, November 15, 2014, has been cancelled. The American composer’s opera about the 1985 hijacking of the “Achille Lauro” and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish passenger, by Palestinian terrorists has been performed—despite detractors—to critical and popular acclaim since its 1991 premiere. The Met is mounting a new production of the work during its 2014-15 season.

The Met’s new production originated with London’s English National Opera in 2012, and the press praised it. Just one person was seen protesting the London premiere. The opera has played at The Juilliard School, the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and in Long Beach, Calif., practically without event. Then why cancel the “Live in HD” transmission?

Survivors of Leon Klinghoffer, his daughters, represented by the Anti-Defamation League, raised concerns about growing anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe. The Met’s publicity office says the global “Live in HD” transmissions reach 937 cinemas in 34 European countries. Metropolitan Opera’s General Director Peter Gelb has stated that he believes the opera is not anti-Semitic but understands the concerns of the international Jewish community.

“The Death of Klinghoffer” will be John Adams’ third major opera to be mounted at the Met, and eight performances are scheduled October 20 through November 15. Already seen there are his “Doctor Atomic” (2008) and “Nixon in China” (2011).

Early comments from the private sector about the Met’s decision include the use of the words “oppression” and “censorship.” Some plan to petition the Met to reinstate the programmed “Live in HD” transmission. Others call for a round-table discussion by experts of the issues for and against airing the work, in hopes of achieving greater tolerance. Clearly the Met has a delicate situation on its hands.