Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Death of the Metropolitan Opera

Michael L.

KlinghofferSomewhere in the bowels of Lincoln Center, in New York City, is a heinously scarred Jewish hunchback, eating a hot pastrami sandwich while pawing a greasy, dog-eared copy of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and plotting revenge upon Peter Gelb.

Or, so one hopes, anyways.

Gelb is the general manager of the Met and, thus, the man ultimately responsible for spreading genocidal anti-Jewish hatred to the general public in the guise of high art.  I imagine that they did not actually put that in his job description, but there it is.

The Death of Klinghoffer is high art.

I wonder if the editors at Time Magazine would consider an opera sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan, depicting the lynching of a black man in the nineteenth-century American south to be appropriate?  Can you imagine a black man dangling by his neck from a tree in an opera about 1870s Alabama in which white blondey-folk in their Sunday best sing beneath the tree in a manner designed to be sympathetic to the audience?

And staged in New York City, no less?

No?  Because that is basically what we have here.

Klinghoffer, by the way, did not simply die.  He was murdered by Arab racists for no other reason than that he happened to be Jewish.

This opera, from what I have read elsewhere, is a consideration of the virtues of murderous racism and an invitation to wonder just why the assassination of random, crippled old Jews on the high seas is not necessarily an unreasonable act.

I have not, it should be noted, seen the opera and therefore am relying on others who I respect such as former New Republic editor, Marty Peretz and CUNY professor of humanities, Phyllis Chesler. Harvard University Professor of Law, Alan Dershowitz, who I also hold considerable respect for, was at the opening on Monday night.

Dershowitz apparently had a run-in with the Lincoln Center cops.  In a piece for the Gatestone Institute entitled, Metropolitan Opera Stifles Free Exchange of Ideas about a Propaganda Opera, he writes:
On Monday night I went to the Metropolitan Opera. I went for two reasons: to see and hear John Adams' controversial opera, The Death of Klinghoffer; and to see and hear what those protesting the Met's judgment in presenting the opera had to say. Peter Gelb, the head of the Met Opera, had advised people to see it for themselves and then decide...

Lincoln Center made that difficult. After I bought my ticket, I decided to stand in the Plaza of Lincoln Center, across the street and in front of the protestors, so I could hear what they were saying and read what was on their signs. But Lincoln Center security refused to allow me to stand anywhere in the large plaza. They pushed me to the side and to the back, where I could barely make out the content of the protests. "Either go into the opera if you have a ticket or leave. No standing." When I asked why I couldn't remain in the large, open area between the protestors across the street and the opera house behind me, all I got were terse replies: "security," "Lincoln Center orders."

The end result was that the protestors were talking to and facing an empty plaza. It would be as if the Metropolitan Opera had agreed to produce The Death of Klinghoffer, but refused to allow anyone to sit in the orchestra, the boxes or the grand tier. "Family circle, upstairs, side views only."
Leaving aside the question of whether The Death of Klinghoffer is a love song to the Jewish people... or perhaps something else entirely, what Dershowitz is claiming is that while fans of The Death of Klinghoffer constantly rant about freedom of speech, the protesters against this dehumanization of the Jews were made almost entirely non-present.

The irony could hardly be more rich, given the fact that those of us who are deeply suspicious of this "opera" are simply expressing our own freedom of speech to oppose the spread of anti-Jewish racism in the form of alleged "high culture."

Dershowitz, who is a fan of opera - (I prefer baseball, Go Giants!) - did not like the show, but since he is a Jewish supporter of the Jewish people this is hardly surprising.

He writes:
Then there were the choruses. The two that open the opera are supposed to demonstrate the comparative suffering of the displaced Palestinians and the displaced Jews. The Palestinian chorus is beautifully composed musically, with some compelling words, sung rhythmically and sympathetically. The Jewish chorus is a mishmash of whining about money, sex, betrayal and assorted "Hasidism" protesting in front of movie theaters. It never mentions the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, though the chorus is supposed to be sung by its survivors. The goal of that narrative chorus is to compare the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians—some of which was caused by Arab leaders urging them to leave and return victoriously after the Arabs murdered the Jews of Israel—with the systematic genocide of six million Jews. It was a moral abomination.
A moral abomination.

If my favorite pro-Israel attorney is correct, what this means is that Mr. Gelb has produced a "moral abomination" that is hostile toward Jewish people because it places al-Nakba on moral par with the Holocaust.

Not everyone agrees with Alan, as I am sure that he will not be shocked to discover.  Writing in the New York Post, Gelb, himself, the son of the former managing editor of the New York Times, tells us:
On Monday night, while protesters demonstrated outside and a few voices inside attempted to disrupt the performance by shouting over the music (before being escorted out), conductor David Robertson coolly led the orchestra, chorus, dancers and singers through the two-act opera.

For those who came to listen and watch, it was a deeply moving experience that left no doubt which side the opera was on: the side of humanity.
The side of humanity.

I wonder what part of shooting a wheelchair-bound old man is the humanity part?

I should probably keep this piece brief because, again, I have not actually seen this thing.

This is what Peretz says:
Well, I am not buying tickets to the The Death of Klinghoffer for the next season. In 2003 I saw the Brooklyn Academy of Music production of the terrorist saga, which was so appallingly amoral that I forced myself through to the end as a sort of ethical discipline. Worse than amoral, it was tedious. Perhaps musical beauty cannot be made out of a tale of the cold-blooded killing of a crippled Jew. 
In The Death of Klinghoffer, this crippled Jew, this virtually helpless victim, somehow becomes a symbol of Jewish power. This opera by the composer John Adams and the librettist Alice Goodman does not recoil in horror from the crime it depicts. In this account of the terrorist incident on the Achille Lauro in 1985 the killers have apocalyptic poetry on their side and the victims have bourgeois worries on theirs. 
Perhaps I just do not have that kind of ethical discipline, because I will not watch this production in any form or under any circumstances short of a pistol to my head.  If Phyllis Chesler, Alan Dershowitz, and Marty Peretz tell me that the work is heinous and bigoted nonsense, I will tip my kippa to their judgment in this case.

And to those wealthy Jews who are helping to finance the Met... go to hell.

I know that more open-minded people than myself, such as, say, David Harris-Gershon, would probably love the damn thing.

But, speaking strictly for myself, there is no way that I am going to applaud a piece of media that begs us to wonder if killing Jews, merely because they are Jews, is perhaps not spiritually uplifting or, at least, given the politics, perfectly understandable.

This is what Chesler says:
Indeed, the obsession with Jews and money is reminiscent of Nazi propaganda. The terrorist Rambo sings: “But wherever poor men / Are gathered they can / Find Jews getting fat . . . America / Is one big Jew.” 
The terrorists tell us they are “men of ideals,” and that “this is an action for liberation.” Hah. In reality, they didn’t allow Marilyn Klinghoffer, who was exhausted and in pain from colon cancer, lie down. 
They forced the passengers to stand under the broiling Mediterranean sun for days and to hold live grenades. 
Leon Klinghoffer had suffered several strokes. He lacked full use of his hands, his legs were paralyzed, his speech slurred — and this is whom Molqui murders and throws overboard with his wheelchair.
I have to say, I suspect that at the end of the day Peter Gelb may not be going to a very cool place.


  1. Haven't seen it either. Don't plan to, and don't need to. Racist murders don't need to be turned into art, or understood, or placed into context, or anything else.

    They need to be condemned, period.

    They don't speak to any sort of human condition except for murderous racism, which is a human condition I'd like to think everyone would agree we can do without.

    The KKK comparison is so fucking apt it's ridiculous that any serious person can even entertain for one second the notion that this 'opera' can ever be considered anything other than vile filth.

    The world seems so upside down anymore that I'm sometimes amazed I don't wake up on the ceiling...

    1. Jay,

      you already have awoken on the ceiling.

      You get used to it after awhile!

  2. I have my own thoughts about the opera that I'll post sometime soon. In the meantime, you might want to check out Paul Berman's comments at Tablet ( )

    Anyway, I should look up when the remaining performances are. Gotta know when to show up and be part of the protests.

    1. Performances - Wednesday 10.29, Saturday 11.01, Wednesday 11.05, Saturday 11.08, Tuesday 11.11 and Saturday 11.15.

      I'll actually be up in New York on November 2. A day earlier and I might have been able to check out the protests myself!

  3. I should have made it clear that stabbing and riot was in New York. The boy's brother, a lawyer, spent years in US courts fighting for justice for the killer.

  4. Send Gelb a dead rat in the mail, every day. For a year.