New York's Met Opera braces for 'Death of Klinghoffer' protests

Sun Oct 19, 2014 3:02pm EDT
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By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's Metropolitan Opera is bracing for its most tumultuous opening in decades on Monday as protesters get ready to picket "The Death of Klinghoffer," the John Adams opera about the 1985 hijacking of a cruise ship by Palestinian guerillas.

The opera, seen by some as a humanist masterpiece and by others as anti-Semitic, depicts the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish man on a cruise with his wife aboard the Achille Lauro. After his death, the killers threw the body of the retired New Yorker overboard along with his wheelchair.

In 1991, less than six years after the hijacking, the opera made its premiere in Brussels, receiving mostly favorable reviews and generating little controversy. But a few months later when the opera moved to the borough of Brooklyn in New York City, Klinghoffer's home town, it touched a raw nerve.

The production received much angrier notices, including a statement of outrage from Klinghoffer's daughters, Lisa and Ilse, who called it anti-Semitic and biased. Those labels have dogged the opera ever since.

On Monday, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, is expected to join hundreds of protesters and 100 symbolic wheelchairs at a rally outside the opera's Met debut at Lincoln Center in midtown Manhattan.

Last month, a crowd demonstrating against the opera jeered operagoers in evening dress as they made their way into the Met's season gala opening, and the opera company has scrapped plans to broadcast "Klinghoffer" internationally.

"The problem is this is not gutter-level anti-Semitism," said Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a trustee of the City University of New York who is helping organize the rally. The Met was "the very highest level of American culture," he said.

"The history of the Weimar Republic shows us when this type of racism and anti-Semitism reaches this level of the culture, society is really troubled," he said, referring to Germany just before the rise of Nazism in the 1930's.   Continued...

Alan Opie, playing Leon Klinghoffer (R) and Jesse Kovarksy, playing Omar perform during a dress rehearsal of John Adam's opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" at the ENO in London in this file photo taken February 23, 2012.  REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/Files