The Death of Klinghoffer. David Robertson. John Adams himself. A gauntlet of police barricades, Rudy Giuliani helping protest across the street, and one loud disturbance of the peace inside the Metropolitan Opera House itself.
The was not what brought me to NYC, but I’m glad I was at Lincoln Center on Monday evening.
The Metropolitan Opera has never staged The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams’ 1991 opera dramatizing the events on the Achille Lauro as it sailed from Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean. The opera, with Bachian choruses framing the action on the ship, certainly gives ample voice to a viewpoint that might not be popular with NYC’s notable Jewish population. Palestinian thoughts are clearly presented, given equal billing with those of Israeli citizens.
The Death of Klinghoffer is less an action opera than a rumination on faith, hope, despair, and ageless conflict. That incredible Metropolitan Opera chorus sang the crap out of the choral scenes; Donald Palumbo and his crew received full-throated approval in their curtain call.
Among the principals, Michaela Martens was the stand-out as Marilyn Klinghoffer, her closing aria being the emotional climax of the opera. She sang with assured clarity and dark, rich color. Alan Opie looked and sounded the part of a man in weary, late middle age. His final thoughts as the post-death Leon Klinghoffer will linger long in the memory. His voice may be frayed at time, but this only adds age and weight to his character.
The Palestinian terrorists were a uniformly strong group of younger American singers. Aubrey Allicock, reprising a role we saw in Saint Louis in 2011, was a stand-out Mahmoud, the most three-dimensional of the Palestinian. Sean Panikkar sang with clarion tenor notes as Molqi; Ryan Speedo Green had the smaller part of Rambo.
John Adams wrote the part of Omar as a trouser role, but in this production the dancer Jesse Karovsky portrayed the character with grace in his extended dance sequences. Maya Lahyani sang Omar’s arias, her movements synchronized with his, in a role titled ‘Palestinian Woman.’ Her too-brief appearance was a key moment in the opera, and a most poignant one.
I fear that Paulo Szot’s voice is too light for the key role of the ship’s captain. In a performance filled with introspective, stylized movement and soundscape, his was the least effective portrayal.
The vast Met stage served as a barren wasteland of exile, and as the expansive deck of the Achille Lauro. Substantial projections designed by Finn Ross augmented the visual palate, often surrounding the action on three sides.
And thanks to OTSL diction coach Erie Mills, the text was clear and direct and unaffected throughout. I’m always delighted to hear mute, unaccented syllables sung just so!
A perusal of the long-standing and ongoing Middle-Eastern conflict is far beyond the scope of this review, since the genesis of the conflict is thousands of years old. Any time three different faith groups claim the same city as holy, we are going to find drama upon drama, animus layered upon hatred. Ire is bound to be raised in New York City when the Palestinian viewpoint is presented sympathetically.
In the months prior to Monday’s premiere, the Met appeared insensitive to many. The Met management certainly did not take a cue from the very successful approach to Klinghoffer that we saw in Saint Louis recently, when Timothy O’Leary and the staff at Opera Theatre of St. Louis converged public conversation and interfaith dialogue and mounted an acclaimed production of this same opera. But one is left to wonder if New York will ever be a place where something this polarizing doesn’t cause rancor and protest.
As the evening unfolded, with armed New York police officers standing in the aisles, expected protests in the opera house were minimized. About 45 minutes in, a man in the upper balcony started shouting “The murder of Klinghoffer will never be forgiven.” He was escorted out. At the critical moment later in the opera where the title character is (graphically) murdered, a woman in the orchestra seating shouted an expletive; she too was escorted out. Aside from a smattering of boos that greeted the opening Palestinian chorus, the evening went as planned.
John Adams’ own appearance own stage at the curtain call brought frenzied cheering from the audience. So did David Robertson’s first entrance into the orchestra pit, before a note had been played or sung.
The Death of Klinghoffer is a major American opera, considered by many to be a masterpiece. Having now seen this opera in two incredibly different productions — one expansive, one intimate — I must say that I am convinced of the importance and power of this work.
For more information on the protest:
And the New York Times review is now posted: