The Metropolitan Opera’s decision to move forward with an opera about Leon Klinghoffer is unsettling. For those who may not recall, Leon Klinghoffer was the Jewish man in a wheelchair who was shot and killed and thrown overboard, after the ship he was on was hijacked by four terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front. The cruise ship Achille Lauro was in the Mediterranean when it was hijacked on October 7, 1985.
The John Adams Opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer” is about the murder of Leon Klinghoffer. Those protesting point to the fact that it’s anti-semitic and glorifies terrorism. However, there are many who disagree including The Met’s general manager Peter Gelb who is not backing down telling the BBC that, “There’s no doubt for anyone who sees this opera that it’s not anti-semitic”. He continued that “at the end of the day, anyone with any sense of moral understanding knows this opera is about the murder of an innocent man.” That may be the case but there can be no moral value in the senseless murder of a disabled man, just as there would be no purpose in creating an opera about 9-11.
Gelb said that the program will include a statement by Klinghoffer’s daughters objecting to the presentation of the Opera. But he insists that the show must go on. “We will not bow to this pressure. We can’t. In fact it’s all the more reason for it to be presented.” It’s the same argument that many artists use to defend their “radical art.” Vito Acconci’s Seedbed comes to mind. In the end, it’s about fame and fortune, recognition masked in artistic freedom. There is no artistic value when the murder of an innocent, disabled man is the focus. It can not be rationally defended. While art is indeed in the eye of the beholder, the subject matter in this case is not art. It’s a shameful attempt to gain publicity for an opera house that has shown a steady decline in both attendance and revenue. This stance by Gelb will do nothing to help reverse that trend. To the contrary, he is alienating the very people who support the Met.