…the Bleacherman has entered the debate…
One of the few avid readers of my blog wrote to me yesterday soliciting my comments on the controversy over the NY Met’s new performance of John Adams’s opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer.” My reader knows that I am a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state as well as passionately supporting the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and a state of their own. I am also a strong supporter of all forms of art and being somewhat a dadaist I rally to root for the unconventional.
For those who forgot, didn’t and/or don’t care about or were not even born back in 1985; the opera is the story of events when Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Italian passenger cruise ship and murdered an old Jewish man who was confined in a wheel chair and threw him and his wheelchair overboard.
The opera, when first performed in 1991, was subject to a mixed bag of reviews. Many felt that the opera had a strong under-current of anti-semitism. Some believed that it glorified terrorism. Others, especially opera purists, loved the music and staging.
I, for ideological reasons, have chosen not to see the opera so I cannot comment on my individual likes or dislikes with respect to the opera itself.
So the real question is whether an act of barbaric terrorism should be somehow memorialized in an expression of art. How would opera purists feel if the performance they were watching was centered on the terrorists bringing down the World Trade Towers? Could they accept a few arias from one of the terrorists in the cockpit of a doomed planes singing praises to his cause as the towers loomed closer and closer? Could they ignore the subject matter and just concentrate of staging, music and vocalizations?
To many, the Palestinian terrorists who killed Mr. Klinghoffer are heroes. To many Islamic and Arab extremists, the cadre of terrorists who flew those two jetliners into the twin towers are also heroes. Does giving their brutality a voice validate terrorism as a legitimate act of rebellion?
It is a question to ponder – especially today. As this blog is being written, terrorism rages across the world. In Ottawa, Canada, a soldier guarding a War Memorial was shot and killed. Several other people were also wounded in this outburst of violence. In Jerusalem, a half a world away, a Palestinian terrorist ran his car into a crowd of people waiting to board a transportation tram. A four month old infant was killed and nine others were injured.
Will any of these acts of malevolence be the subject matter of John Adams’s next opera?
Will all that being said, the beauty, the value and legitimacy of art remains in the eyes of the beholder. It should not be censored nor restricted because of the politics of the day. Can anyone today imagine the banning of books just because someone or some religious sect oppose its content. (Yes, there are some even today who yearn to ban books and censor art but thankfully, they represent only a minority of Americans.)
I can only hope that those gifted in the arts realize that while their right to express their visions and emotions should not be tempered; it is vital for artists to respect and understand the subject matter they seek to explore.
As for John Adams’s opera, I shall only say that I would be happier if he titled the work, “The Brutal Murder of Klinghoffer.” The man did not just die…he was executed…murdered. An acknowledgement of the senseless horror would probably have gone a long way in mitigating the outburst against the work.
…the Bleacherman has left the debate…