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
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
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.
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