When Art and Sensitivity Clash: The 'Klinghoffer' Broadcast Cancellation

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The Metropolitan Opera's decision to cancel its global HD and radio broadcasts of John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer has stirred up heated responses from around the classical music world. Some have called the decision sensitive and sensible given the real-life subject matter. Others have said it showed a lack of courage of artistic convictions and principles.

The Death of Klinghoffer centers on the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists, who murdered the Jewish passenger Leon Klinghoffer. The Met cited an "outpouring of concern" from Jewish groups that the HD transmission, scheduled for Nov. 15, might incite global anti-Semitism.

In this podcast, we get opposing views on this from two Met-watchers:

  • James Jorden, editor of Parterre Box and a contributing writer to the New York Post
  • Tim Smith, classical music critic of the Baltimore Sun

Segment Highlights

On the Met's decision

Jorden: My problem with losing the HD [broadcast] is there's a very large audience who have the opportunity to see and make their own decisions about this work that are now being cut out of the process. There are about four to five times as many people who see the HD as see the performance in the theater. In a sense, the Met is cutting out about 75 to 80 percent of the total audience for this piece.

Smith: Part of me says, I think I know what they're talking about. It may be overstating things. But if you do believe that something is going on that is so dangerous for Jews right now, then I think it's at least sensitive to say that maybe this particular piece right now...we don't want to be a part, if there is truly a chance that it could somehow be exploited by people who are already looking for excuses anyway.

How the Met could have handled the objections differently

Jorden: There's a teachable moment here that's going un-taught. There's something we can learn about the racial politics of the situation that could be approached by handling the HD Broadcasts in a sensitive way. In other words, by including supplemental materials during the intermission, before the broadcast, so that people can come into it with an informed point of view.

Smith: When you read some of the less emotional but still very serious analyses by people who really dislike this opera, you can at least understand where they're coming from. They can cite chapter and verse about parts in the libretto that really they find offensive, starting with the title: they don't know why it's not called "The Murder of Klinghoffer." I didn't think that that kind of objection was driving this decision but merely the fact that this is going out into a world that isn't so easy to have a dialogue with.

Should Art Ever Be Silenced for a Perceived Social Good?

Smith: Not everybody is thinking of this [opera] as a masterpiece, which it may very well be. It's a fabulously written piece and it's full of deep thought and all that stuff. But it doesn't mean that everybody's hearing it that way, or is even interested in it as a work of art. They're interested in other things about it.

Jorden: As the saying goes, information wants to be free. The more knowledge people have, the better capable they are in a potential sense of making a good decision.

Weigh in: Listen to the full podcast above, and tell us what you think about the Met's decision in the comments below.