Hundreds of protesters are expected to greet opera patrons for the premiere of John Adams’ 1991 opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” on Monday in New York. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Gov. George Pataki and two U.S. congressmen are expected to be outside the opera house ahead of the performance which begins at 7:30 p.m., the Associated Press said.
The opera is based on the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by members of the Palestine Liberation Front, a hijacking during which 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew, was shot and killed in his wheelchair. While critics have hailed the performance as a masterpiece, some argue the opera is historically inaccurate, justifies the actions of the hijackers and is anti-Semitic.
Organizers said they plan to bring 100 wheelchairs to the protest held in front of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. On Monday afternoon, Rabbi Avi Weiss, a prominent New York rabbi, led teenagers from faith-based schools in a prayer outside the Met, CBS 2 reported.
Giuliani told the New York Times he would be protesting the show because it presents “a distorted view of history.” The former mayor has not called for the opera to be canceled or banned. In response to the heightened security both inside the Met and on the streets he said, “There shouldn’t be any threats here. This is a historical, sociological and artistic issue — not some issue of violence.”
The Met released a statement Monday saying that the opera may depict a “difficult subject” that deals with the “complexities of an unconscionable real-life act of violence but it is “neither anti-Semitic nor does it glorify terrorism.” While the Met has canceled its planned November movie theater and radio broadcasts after pressure from Jewish groups — most notably the Anti-Defamation League — the opera house affirmed it would not cancel the live performances. “The Met will not bow to this pressure,” the company said.
Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, were allowed to write a statement in the show’s program.
“Terrorism cannot be rationalized. It cannot be understood. It can never be tolerated as a vehicle for political expression or grievance. Unfortunately, “The Death of Klinghoffer” does all this, and sullies the memory of a fine, principled, sweet man in the process,” Klinghoffer’s daughters wrote.
This isn’t the first time the daughters have spoken out against the show. In 1991 they had anonymously sat in the audience of a performance of the opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times they called the show “historically naïve and appalling.”
Meanwhile, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended the show.
“I really think we have to be very careful in a free society to respect that cultural institutions will portray works of art, put on operas, plays, that there will be art exhibits in museum,” de Blasio said Monday. “And in a free society we respect that. We don’t have to agree with what’s in the exhibit but we agree with the right of the artist and the cultural institution to put that forward to the public.”
Opera expert Fred Plotkin says most critics have not seen the show and says their arguments may be off.
“Does this opera present the killers in a favorable light? No,” he said. “Are the Klinghoffers far and away the most sympathetic characters in the opera, the ones we care about most? I believe so.”