The opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" debuted at the Met earlier this week amidst a good deal of controversy. Contributing critic David Cote of Time Out New York filed the following review.
Opera is a dangerous business: Wildly expensive, technically complicated, and if done badly, it can look really silly. Then there’s subject matter. "The Death of Klinghoffer," first presented in 1991, is composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman’s response to the terrorist murder of a American Jewish passenger on a cruise liner in 1985. Despite massive protests and charges of anti-Semitism, it just opened at the Met.
First things first: "The Death of Klinghoffer" is neither anti-Semitic nor pro-terrorist. It depicts four Palestine Liberation Front terrorists who are anti-Semitic, naturally, but the opera is a complex, prismatic, often mysterious mediation on tribal memory, revenge and the psychic toll of suffering.
There are choruses of exiled Palestinians and Jews that begin the evening, which are hypnotically beautiful and terrifying. But also choruses of the desert, the ocean, of the day, and they're dense and poetic. Adams' post-minimalist score is thrilling, scary, poignant and ravishing.
This isn't a docudrama about the grim events on the Achille Lauro; it’s something weirder and more cosmic. Alice Goodman’s libretto, admittedly, can be impenetrable, but she and Adams have a great sense of theatricality, mingling testimony from the Captain of the ship, played by Paulo Szot, passengers and of course, the disabled Klinghoffer and his wife, Marilyn, played by Alan Opie and Michaela Martens.
Director Tom Morris crafts an admirably lucid production, a mix of heightened realism and hallucinatory nightmare, with projected subtitles to supply factual detail.
There's no closure in this opera, as in life: Marilyn, like us, is left grieving, angry, heartbroken.
The Death of Klinghoffer is not propaganda; it’s a work of art. It’s not here to comfort us, but add complexity. My suggestion: Don’t believe the hype and decide for yourself.