Viewpoint: The Right to Dissent
Jesse Kovarsky (Omar), Ryan Speedo Green (Rambo), Sean Panikkar (Molqi) and Aubrey Allicock (Mamoud) in Klinghoffer at the Met
© Beth Bergman 2015
The controversy that surrounded the Metropolitan Opera premiere of The Death of Klinghoffer dominated conversations about opera this past fall. The controversy was not rooted in the Met’s first performance of John Adams’s 1991 opera, which was a musical triumph. (Our review of the Met’s Klinghoffer is on page 36 of this issue.) The Klinghoffer controversy was and is rooted in the subject matter of the opera, which is based on the 1985 hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro by members of the Palestine Liberation Front. The PLF hijackers murdered a wheelchair-bound Jewish–American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer, while they were in control of the ship — a particularly vicious act that has lost none of its power to shock and disgust observers, whatever their politics, after more than a quarter-century.
Some feel that by giving the hijackers a voice, as it were, the opera glorifies terrorism; others assert that the opera is inherently anti-Semitic. Many felt that the opera had no place in the Met’s repertory and protested accordingly — outside the opera house and within — during the course of the premiere. Security was heightened during the Klinghoffer run, with scores of uniformed police officers on duty at Lincoln Center, and the atmosphere inside the house was tense. For me, the most striking moment of many during the Klinghoffer premiere came during Act II, when the four artists playing the hijackers walked off the stage, into the auditorium and up the aisle, knowing full well that there were a number of people seated in the house who were vehemently opposed to the opera.
Although the arguments inspired by the Met’s decision to produce Klinghoffer were unusually heated, it is worth noting that the protests didn’t stop the performances, and that the performances didn’t stop the protests. It was an unconventional artistic dialogue, to be sure, but an impassioned one. One cannot help but compare that dialogue — however intemperate or disorderly it may have sounded on both sides of the issue — with the non-dialogue that now dominates the arts in Russia. John Freedman’s article, “Russian Winter,” which begins on page 26, looks at the state of public discourse about cultural issues in present-day Russia. Freedman, a longtime resident of Moscow and the theater critic for The Moscow Times, describes a situation that is reminiscent of the years in which Russian artists such as Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya could be designated “non-citizens” when they spoke out against government policies. That era — which just a few years ago seemed happily over — may have returned.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
This year, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the OPERA NEWS Awards.
On Sunday, April 19, the editors of opera news will be most happy to join in a gala
celebration of our 2015 honorees — Piotr Beczala, Ferruccio Furlanetto,
Sondra Radvanovsky, Samuel Ramey and Teresa Stratas.
The honorees will be saluted at a dinner at the Plaza Hotel in
Manhattan. Information about tickets is available at
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