Yesterday marked the New York Metropolitan Opera’s debut of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer. Rather than roses or even the decisive tomato splashing the stage, the premiere was met with vicious protests. Several public figures were among the demonstrators outside Lincoln Center yesterday evening, including former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani.
With opera being a twerk-free genre that usually escapes mass controversy, the Klinghoffer outrage may be a bit surprising. However, Adams’ composition has been a controversial one ever since its initial performances in 1991. Its subject matter has recurrently stirred up scandal for allegedly being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. The opera is based on the real-life 1985 murder of a handicapped Jewish-American named Leon Klinghoffer. Klinghoffer was killed by militants of the Palestine Liberation Front following their hijacking of Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship.
In a statement that may have also been warranted on the East Coast, Adams addressed the contention in March, prior to the West Coast premiere at the Long Beach Opera. “I had an inkling that it would be controversial even before I started composing it … I had no idea that the feelings would be that deeply personal and that people would take such umbrage to the work.”
Last night, the protestors shouted slogans at arriving patrons and displayed signs that spoke of glorified terrorism. In addition to Giuliani, other notable attendees denouncing the show included Congressman Peter King and former New York state governor, David Paterson.
Contrarily, current New York City mayor Bill de Blasio defended the Met’s performance, suggesting that the resistance was a suppression of free speech. During a press conference in Queens yesterday, de Blasio specifically attacked Giuliani’s involvement, stating that the former mayor “had a history of challenging cultural institutions when he disagreed with their content.”
In response to the protests, the Met issued a statement defending The Death of Klinghoffer and their right to perform it. “The rumors and inaccuracies about the opera and its presentation at the Met are part of a campaign to have it suppressed. Klinghoffer is neither anti-Semitic, nor does it glorify terrorism. The Met will not bow to this pressure.”