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In Review > North America

The Death of Klinghoffer

NEW YORK CITY
The Metropolitan Opera
10/20/14

In Review Klinghoffer hdl 1115
A scene from Tom Morris’s Met Klinghoffer staging
© Beth Bergman 2015
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Szot and Martens, the Captain and Marilyn Klinghoffer at the Met
© Beth Bergman 2015

It took twenty-three years for the Alice Goodman–John Adams opera The Death of Klinghoffer (seen Oct. 20) to reach the Met. In the years since its world premiere, in Brussels in 1991, there have been a number of stage productions of Klinghoffer, but the work has proved highly effective in concert performances. Director Tom Morris, whose Klinghoffer production was first seen at English National Opera in 2012, took a conservative, often literal approach as he made the case for staging it. Factual details of the original events, and even of what was happening onstage, were projected onto the scenery. Morris invented a framing device, the reunion of some survivors of the Achille Lauro hijacking, but mostly the events that occurred on board the ship were enacted as described. The single enormous exception was the decision to bring the murder of Leon Klinghoffer onstage, during the orchestral interlude of Marilyn Klinghoffer’s solo “My one consolation.” He was shot in the back in his wheelchair and, in a spoken line added to the libretto, Marilyn heard the sound and wondered aloud “What was that?” Off the ship (a distinction fluidly achieved, as Tom Pye’s scenic design consisted primarily of the video projections by Finn Ross), Morris was a bit more inventive. The role of Omar, youngest of the four terrorists, is written for a mezzo-soprano. Morris assigned it to the young male dancer Jesse Kovarsky, while the music was sung, strongly, by Maya Lahyani, identified as “a Palestinian woman.” Omar’s indoctrination into violence was portrayed through the choreography of Arthur Pita. Morris then specifically assigned the murder to Omar. 

The music, which in retrospect shows that Adams had already shaken off any idea of “minimalism” in his first post-Nixon in China opera, was in the surest possible hands with conductor David Robertson and the Met orchestra. The influence of Bach’s Passions poses an interpretive challenge in this work. The Met’s soloists on oboe, bassoon and electric keyboard proved to be dramatically attuned, and Robertson provided a sense of the long line. After a particularly vigorous interpretation of Leon’s “I’ve never been a violent man,” Robertson bound the final sections of the opera into a single span. The “Desert” chorus was prickly and insinuating, and the many parallel chords of Marilyn’s first solo were placed in the ear so that their sliding contrapuntal lines, played in strict tempo, would lead to Leon’s “Aria of the Falling Body.” Robertson caught the false sense of relief that the “Day” chorus had in this particular production, in which it is sung by passengers who are oblivious to the murder, then produced an unexpectedly gorgeous string of tone at the agitated start of Marilyn’s final solo, which maintained energy into the very last bars of the opera. It was the finest piece of Adams conducting I’ve heard since Alan Gilbert solved a different challenge in the last forty minutes of the Met’s Doctor Atomic. Donald Palumbo’s Met chorus produced beauty of line and tone, even when filing offstage. The twenty-five women in the “Desert” chorus were especially distinguished.

As Mamoud, Aubrey Allicock made an auspicious Met debut, moving imperceptibly in his long first solo from seeming amiability to horrifying fanaticism to outright hatred. Paulo Szot, as the Captain, had plush tone and a liquid top range (some tiring in Act I apart) that did not preclude real power in Act II. Alan Opie made every bar count as Leon, despite the questionable decision to have him rise out of his wheelchair twice to sing. But the revelation of the cast was the Marilyn of Michaela Martens, whose deep lowest register was the first reminder many of us have had of the much-missed Tatiana Troyanos. She and Szot enacted the sad futility of the final scene with grace. Mark Grey’s sound design deserves the only possible accolade — that it wasn’t noticeable. Now, with the triumphant achievements of Robertson, Martens and the Met’s chorus and orchestra for all to hear, is it too much to hope that one day the Met’s annual holiday presentation will be the overwhelming Adams Nativity oratorio El Niñospacer 

WILLIAM R. BRAUN

 

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