Not to be depressing, but imagine if I, your friend, teacher, fellow musician, Israeli/American, New Yorker went on vacation and I was murdered by terrorists because I am Jewish. Then, imagine that an opera was written about my murder without any consultation with my family and instead of being called a murder it was called a death, as if I simply died naturally of old age instead of two gunshots to the chest and head. And then imagine that the opera was steeped in anti-Israel political propaganda and was performed against the wishes of my family and at none other than the one of the world’s leading cultural institutions-the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. You’d be pretty horrified, I hope.
Well, that’s basically what happened to Leon Klinghoffer. He was celebrating his 36th wedding anniversary with his wife on a cruise ship in 1985 when terrorists took control of the ship, held the passengers and crew hostage, separated between the Jews and non-Jews and shot him in the forehead and chest and threw him overboard in his wheelchair. Yes, he was disabled.
His wife passed away several months after his murder. This is what his two daughters wrote upon seeing the opera:
“Neither Mr. Adams (the composer) nor librettist Alice Goodman reached out to us when creating the opera, so we didn’t know what to expect when we attended the American debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1991. We were devastated by what we saw: the exploitation of the murder of our father as a vehicle for political commentary.
Over the years we have been deeply distressed with each new production of “Klinghoffer.” Critical views of Israel permeate the opera, and the staging and props of various productions have only amplified that bias. To have it now produced in New York — in our own backyard — by the country’s most prestigious opera company is incredibly painful.
We have always been strong supporters of the arts, and believe they can play an important role in examining and understanding significant world events. “Klinghoffer” does no such thing. It presents false moral equivalencies without context and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. The opera rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father.”
I find it deeply troubling that they made their feelings known and that Peter Gelb, the director at the Met chose to ignore them and produce the opera anyway. Where is the compassion? Their father was murdered! Do their feelings and wishes not count at all? Is there nothing sacred? I’m a writer and musician and I wouldn’t dream of making an artistic piece about an actual person whose family is alive without consulting them! It’s cruel! And if they felt it dishonored their father, how could Adams and Goodman not care and continue on with the opera and not listen or make changes? Is total lack of sensitivity considered art now? Gelb defended his choice and called this opera a genius masterpiece. I’m sorry, but what kind of masterpiece causes additional and unnecessary suffering? Are we a society that places more importance on ‘art’ than on common decency? Has he put himself in their shoes? What if this were his father? What if it were yours?
Some say that if I haven’t seen the opera, I can’t form an opinion. Even the Met is using a shameless and manipulative marketing campaign, “See it-then decide” to sell their tickets. Well, I disagree. I have never needed to attend a concert by an artist who uses misogynist and hate-filled lyrics to form an opinion about their work and its negative impact. I have never needed to read Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ to decide how I feel about it. Regarding the opera, I know what the family says about it and that is all I need to know. Their pain is my pain. And their pain should be everyone’s pain and should be our priority. If God forbid someone in your family is murdered and an opera made about it that goes to the Met despite your explicit wishes, I promise you, I won’t go see it even if I hear the music is amazing because my dear ones, in my book, love trumps “art” always and forever.
If we harden our hearts to the Klinghoffer’s daughters pain and choose indifference and propaganda masquerading as art over decency and compassion we are in big, big trouble. I believe that freedom of artistic expression is critical, and I don’t believe in censorship but I do believe in discernment. I don’t protest the Met’s right to produce this opera, they have the right, but just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t automatically mean it’s the right thing to do.
I’ll close with this thought: Just like we buy dolphin safe tuna because we don’t want to hurt the dolphins, and just like we breathe a sigh of relief when we see that ‘no animals were harmed in the making of this film’, so too should we care about not harming the Klinghoffer family, actual people who have suffered too much already.