The Metropolitan Opera has called off its HD and radio broadcasts of The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams and Alice Goodman's landmark 1991 opera, saying that Jewish organizations feared it could "fan global anti-Semitism."
The Death of Klinghoffer is based on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by a group of Palestinian terrorists. It focuses on Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled Jewish American tourist who was murdered during the hijacking and thrown overboard. The opera has been a flashpoint for debate since its 1991 premiere, although recent productions have gone off with relatively little incident.
The Met said it decided to cancel the broadcasts after a series of discussions between its general manager Peter Gelb and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL has a close association with Klinghoffer's two daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, who have been outspoken about what they see as the opera's one-sided portrayal of their father's death. In a statement, Foxman praised the Met for taking steps "to ensure that the Klinghoffer family's perspective is clearly heard by opera patrons" yet he added that it will not satisfy all of the work's critics.
"I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic," Gelb said in a statement. "But I've also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe."
The HD broadcast to movie theaters was scheduled for November 15 and the Saturday radio broadcast was to air on February 28, 2015.
John Adams, whose operas have been seen at the Met in recent seasons, condemned the cancellation. "My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder," he said in a statement provided by his publisher. "It acknowledges the dreams and the grievances of not only the Israeli but also the Palestinian people, and in no form condones or promotes violence, terrorism or anti-Semitism."
Adams added, "The cancellation of the international telecast is a deeply regrettable decision and goes far beyond issues of ‘artistic freedom,’ and ends in promoting the same kind of intolerance that the opera’s detractors claim to be preventing."
The Met says it will include a message from the Klinghoffer daughters both on its Playbill and on its website during the eight stage performances of the opera, which take place from October 20 to November 15.
This is the first time that the Met has cancelled an HD broadcast since the series launched in 2006. The broadcasts are transmitted to 2,000 movie theaters in 67 countries around the world, including Israel. WQXR is one of several hundred stations around the world to broadcast the Met's radio series.
The cancellation comes days after editorials in the New York Post and JNS.org accused the Met of romanticizing Klinghoffer's murder. It is also reminiscent of a similar flare-up when Juilliard presented a semi-staged production in 2009, prompting a letter to The Juilliard Journal protesting the opera as "a political statement made by the composer to justify an act of terrorism by four Palestinians." The school's president, Joseph Polisi, responded with his own letter, stating that conservatories "have to be responsible for maintaining an environment in which challenging, as well as comforting, works of art are presented to the public."
The Met production arrives from the English National Opera, where it was mounted in 2012 and after an initial outcry by columnists, a single protester showed up on opening night.