The Los Angeles Master Chorale, the city’s most prestigious classical music organization after the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra with which LAMC regularly performs, on March 26, 2017 commemorated composer John Adams’ 70th birthday at Walt Disney Concert Hall with selections from his works including the “Chorus of Exiled Palestinians” and “Chorus of Exiled Jews” that open Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” opera.
The opera’s story line can be characterized fairly as “Understandably aggrieved Palestinian Arabs wreak vengeance on Jew standing in for all his perfidious co-religionists.” This is the opera’s obscene inversion of the reality that was a cruise ship hijacking and subsequent murder of an American Jew by Arab terrorists.
My father’s house was razedIn nineteen forty-eightWhen the Israelis passedOver our street[…]Israel Laid all to waste[…]Let the supplanter lookUpon his work. Our faithWill take the stones he brokeAnd break his teeth.
On the other hand, the Chorus of Exiled Jews (8.5 minute video clip) derogates Israeli Jews, ascribing to them a sense of guilt and a dark pathology merging sexual lust with lust for the land. Excerpted:
When I paid off the taxi, I had no money left,And, of course, no luggage. My empty hands shallSignify this passion, which itself remembers.O Daughter of Zion, when you lay upon my breastI was like a soldier who lies beneath the earthOf his homeland, resolved.You said, “I am an old woman. I thought you were dead.I have forgotten how often we betrayed one another.[…]Let us, when our lust is exhausted for the day …[…]Your neighbour, the one who let me in,She was brought up on stories of our love.
“Klinghoffer” repeatedly defames Israelis and Jews as a group. But nowhere does it criticize Arabs or Muslims as a group. It potentially could incite violence against Jews.
The opera’s supporters typically restrict themselves to defending the opera’s propagandistic storyline without dealing with the music. In fact, the music is generally unremarkable except for the clever way it’s used by Adams to underscore words of the Palestinian hijackers. This was pointed out by the eminent American musicologist Richard Taruskin in a New York Times article condemning the Adams opera, “Music’s Dangers And The Case For Control” (Dec. 9, 2001). The New York Classical Review said the opera “makes a devastating impact … [although] there are stretches of mediocre and even outright bad music.”
Typically ignored by supporters is the crux of the problem – the actual words that are sung. Instead, supporters tend to resort to the notion of artistic freedom. It tends to constitute intellectual pretentiousness with anti-Israel bias and antisemitism sometimes as factors.
and married them to anti-Zionist slogans while exculpating, even dignifying Arab terrorism. Generally, the Adams/Goodman Jewish problem seems to focus on an obsession with what they imagine to be Jewish guilt. “Klinghoffer” is not the only Adams/Goodman opera that exhibits the problem. Others are “Nixon in China” (the opera’s only villain is Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, portrayed as cruel and cunning.) and “Dr. Atomic” (physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer is portrayed as tortured by feelings of guilt).
The opera had its Metropolitan Opera debut on Oct. 20, 2014. The Met performed it seven more times through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera.
A work like “Klinghoffer” could have an outsize effect beyond its audience in wrongly influencing the general public since grand opera’s devotees disproportionally tend to include molders of mass opinion – teachers, writers, journalists, correspondents and so on. A problem is that these molders tend to lean to the post-liberal left with its unrealistic view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For example, Mark Swed, a leading Los Angeles music critic, praised both “Klinghoffer” and the LAMC concert in a Los Angeles Times March 28, 2017 review (Entertainment section Part E, page 3). He wrote: “The choruses from ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ proved especially effective, in part because the choral writing itself is subtly eloquent, even when violent … In the choruses of exiled Palestinians and exiled Jews, [pianist] Ray’s lush tone was like applying aloe vera on the raw nerves of the two sides, who share a poetic and spiritual character they find such difficulty in recognizing in the other.”
Here, Swed eloquently but unrealistically equates the two sides of the dispute, ignoring recurring violence incited by longstanding and relentless anti-Israel and anti-Jewish invective from Palestinian media, mosques, schools and leadership. Examples – the Palestinian Authority regularly makes bounty payments to terrorists’ families; PA President Abbas said on Palestinian television on Sept. 16, 2015: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah. With the help of Allah, every martyr will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward” (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 18, 2015).
The incendiary attitude of Palestinians as a society towards their Jewish neighbors is indicated by a December 2015 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) that showed that a majority of Palestinians favor violence against Israelis. In sharp contrast, no such incitement to violence or hatred against Arabs exists in mainstream Jewish society anywhere that is analogous to that found in Palestinian society.
Adams’ musically mediocre opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” and its supporters – especially molders of public opinion – constitute a disservice to the causes of truth, peace and justice.