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CLASSICAL  September 2005

CLASSICAL September 2005

Subject:

A "Jewish Perspective" on Adams Operas

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 27 Sep 2005 08:11:42 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

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Re.: the attack on John Adams, his "Death of Klinghoffer" and - in
advance - on "Doctor Atomic," condemning all three as "anti-Semitic,"
here's a response from a musicologist, who has been studying Adams'
music in recent years (and who happens to be Jewish - a sadly necessary
qualification in this increasingly ugly discussion).

   I know "Klinghoffer" pretty well, and believe firmly that there
   was no antisemitism whatsoever in the minds of the creators.
   Alice Goodman, who wrote the libretto, was Jewish.  Certainly
   Peter Sellars knew what he was doing as an agent-provocateur,
   and perhaps went too far in original concept, but it was moderated
   during rehearsals and early performances.
   
   The opening scene with Klinghoffer's friends chatting about their
   trip was in principle a writerly, clever way to introduce the
   characters--we learn about Mrs. K's illness and other hints
   about their characters, which when omitted makes Mrs.  K's early
   aria about her pain harder to understand and contextualize.  The
   scene was =not= cut because of anti-semitic content, but because
   it a) detracted from the intensity of the drama and b) John
   insists that he felt the music was second-rate.
   
   I've got a copy of the original hand-written score, and agree
   that the music for that scene was weak compared to the more
   powerful music of most everything that follows.  It's somewhat
   along the lines of the British dancing-girl's aria, which I also
   find somewhat less entrancing than much other material.
   
   "Klinghoffer" the opera stands as a transformation of the mundane
   into the mythic, an all-too-human Passion (consciously modeled
   on the Bach Passions), transfigured by the central Hagar Chorus,
   recounting the biblical story of the origins of the Semite/Hamite
   split.
   
   Tho there are numerous complexities involved that I can't get
   into in a brief email, I think that the film version of the
   Opera, while fascinating in the valiant effort to find a new way
   to present opera on film, serves to reinforce the notion of
   antisemitism by
   
     a) rooting the story firmly in the world of News and Media
        and Current Events, this militating against the intended
        effect of transforming quotidian tragedy into myth--essentially
        tying on sandbags to keep the story On The Ground; and,
   
     b) by omitting the central Hagar Chorus and other material,
        reduces the carefully chosen mythic elements--thus clipping
        the story's wings.
   
   As a Jew who lost relatives in the Holocaust, whose family was
   intensely (and pragmatically) Zionist, and who has suffered from
   overt and covert anti-semitism in both personal life and career,
   my "anti-semite" sensors are in good working order.  I was not
   insulted in any way by "Klinghoffer" the opera.  And over the
   past four or five years of knowing and working with John Adams
   have never felt anything but his sincere concern for people who
   hear such a message in "Klinghoffer." The creators' intent was
   to address through art difficult, age-old questions that still
   need to be asked and pondered over seriously, rather than through
   increasingly shrill and biased sound-bite media.

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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