The Metropolitan Opera's decision last week to drop its HD and radio broadcasts of the John Adams opera The Death of Klinghoffer continues to draw strong responses – from newspaper editorial boards, anti-censorship groups, and music critics around the world. But this is only the latest chapter in the fraught history of this work.
The opera's January 1991 premiere at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels took place in a tense atmosphere around the launch of the Gulf War, and patrons were greeted with metal detectors in the lobby (a rarity at that time). After the U.S. premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in March 1991, two co-commisioning organizations – the Glyndebourne Festival and Los Angeles Opera – decided to drop Klinghoffer from their schedules. And in 2001, the Boston Symphony dropped a scheduled performance of choruses from the opera.
But in recent years, performances have gone off as scheduled, and with mostly minimal debate; many critics have lauded the work's music and drama. The dialogue ramped up again when the Met cancelled its HD broadcasts, citing fears by Jewish groups that it could incite global anti-Semitism.
In this week's podcast, Mark Swed, the classical music critic of the Los Angeles Times and longtime Adams-watcher, tells us what he thinks is behind the outcry.
What's driving the recent outcry over the opera
"It's a lot of hearsay. The people who have only reacted very superficially to the opera have been very loud. There has been a lot of misinformation. It's very easy to drum up outrage these days. You have opinions that are being promoted through social media and all the ways that you can now make a lot of noise without knowing anything and without having any ability to create a context."
On whether concerns of anti-Semitism are justified
"Not at all. The problem with the opera of course is that there are anti-Semitic lines that are said by the terrorists. But that's what terrorists say. It would be highly unrealistic if they didn't have anti-Semitic attitudes and were hijacking the Achille Lauro. It would be like making a movie about Hitler in which he only said nice things about the Jews...
"It's easy to hate your enemy. But to understand your enemy, to understand where your enemy is coming from, and to even have some feeling for that, and then be horrified by that person – that is so much stronger than a simple good guy, bad guy movie."
On the production itself
"I actually didn't think this Klinghoffer production would be a problem. It treats the opera almost like a thriller. It's the least controversial of any production I've seen. And in fact, once people see it, I don’t think that there's going to be a problem."
Listen to the full segment above and tell us what you think about the opera and its reception below: