quinta-feira, 19 de fevereiro de 2015
“The Death of Klinghoffer,” at the Met.
By Alex Ross
“The Death of Klinghoffer,” John Adams’s perennially contentious opera about terrorism at sea, received its first Metropolitan Opera performance on October 20th, twenty-three years after its world première. Beforehand, several hundred people gathered opposite Lincoln Center Plaza to register their unhappiness with the work, which dramatizes a ghastly act: the hijacking, by members of the Palestine Liberation Front, in 1985, of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, and the subsequent murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jewish retiree.
At the rally, people carried signs reading “The Met Opera Glorifies Terrorism,” “No Tenors for Terror,” “Snuff Opera,” and “Gelb, Are You Taking Terror $$$?”—the last a reference to Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met. A leaflet from the Zionist Organization of America described the opera as “anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist, anti-American, anti-British, anti-gay, & anti-western world.” A hundred demonstrators sat, symbolically, in wheelchairs. An array of local politicians, both Republican and Democratic, lined up to attack the piece. Melinda Katz, the Queens borough president, said that she was “personally offended by the play.” David Paterson, the former governor of New York, called the work “loathsome and despicable.” A New Jersey state senator wondered whether Hamas had funded the Met production. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took a more conciliatory tone, conceding that Adams is “one of our great American composers.” Giuliani was the only speaker who seemed to have heard the music. Nonetheless, he concluded that the opera “supports terrorism.”
The most aggressive rhetoric came from Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a money manager who has also worked as a political operative. A few years ago, Wiesenfeld won notoriety for seeking, unsuccessfully, to deny the playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree, on account of Kushner’s criticisms of Israel. Wiesenfeld led the “Klinghoffer” rally, and he had much to say. “This is not art,” he thundered. “This is crap. This is detritus. This is garbage.” He declared, as he did at an anti-“Klinghoffer” event last month, that the set should be burned. He made a cryptic joke to the effect that, if something were to happen to Gelb that night, the board of the Met would be the first suspects. The rally went on in that vein. As operagoers began making their way up the steps outside the Met, the mood turned unpleasant. Shouts of “Shame on you!” greeted each new arrival.
Inside the house, there were sporadic disruptions. When, midway through the first act, a man began yelling, “The murder of Klinghoffer will never be forgiven,” the performance seemed on the verge of falling apart. But the Met was lucky to have David Robertson, a fearless and impassioned conductor, in the pit; through sheer will, he kept the music moving, and only a few more disturbances ensued. In the end, the vituperation led to the opposite of the desired outcome: listeners who had been berated on the plaza were more inclined to support the work. When Adams walked onstage, during the curtain calls, he received a huge ovation. I imagine that a similar roar would have greeted Gelb had he appeared. The embattled general manager—who had earlier removed “Klinghoffer” from the Met’s “Live in HD” and radio-broadcast schedules, in the vain hope of defusing protests—held fast against the final onslaught. He is Jewish, and much of what was said of him at the rally was, to borrow a word from Governor Paterson, loathsome.
The protest failed because it relied on falsehoods: the opera is not anti-Semitic, nor does it glorify terrorism. Granted, Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman, do not advertise their intentions in neon. The story of the Achille Lauro hijacking is told in oblique, circuitous monologues, delivered by a variety of self-involved narrators, with interpolated choruses in rich, dense poetic language. The terrorists are allowed ecstatic flights, private musings, self-justifications. But none of this should surprise a public accustomed to dark, ambiguous TV shows like “Homeland.” The most specious arguments against “Klinghoffer” elide the terrorists’ bigotry with the attitudes of the creators. By the same logic, one could call Steven Spielberg an anti-Semite because the commandant in “Schindler’s List” compares Jewish women to a virus.
In the opera, the opposed groups follow divergent trajectories. The terrorists tend to lapse from poetry into brutality, whereas Leon Klinghoffer and his wife, Marilyn, remain robustly earthbound, caught up in the pleasures and pains of daily life, hopeful even as death hovers. Those trajectories are already implicit in the paired opening numbers, the Chorus of Exiled Palestinians and the Chorus of Exiled Jews. The former splinters into polyrhythmic violence, ending on the words “break his teeth”; the latter keeps shifting from plaintive minor to sumptuous major, ending on the words “stories of our love.” The scholar Robert Fink, in a 2005 essay, convincingly argues that the opera “attempts to counterpoise to terror’s deadly glamour the life-affirming virtues of the ordinary, of the decent man, of small things.” Moreover, subtle references to the Holocaust suggest that a familiar horror is recurring. “At least we are not Jews,” an old Swiss woman says. “I kept my distance,” an Austrian frigidly intones. The mellifluous, ineffectual Captain indulges in fantasies of appeasement, conversing under the stars with a silver-tongued terrorist named Mamoud.
Why, then, has “Klinghoffer” caused such strife? One problem is a curious imbalance in the structure. The Klinghoffers, the only individual Jewish characters, do not sing until the second act, and until then the Palestinians hold the stage. Mamoud, for example, discloses that his mother and brother were killed in Palestinian refugee camps—a back story that might seem designed to justify the character’s own violence. Only much later does Klinghoffer provide a counterpoint. With blistering power, he sings, “You don’t give a shit, / Excuse me, about / Your grandfather’s hut, / His sheep and his goat, / And the land he wore out. / You don’t give a shit, / You just want to see / People die.” Another problem is the thread of mild satire that runs through the portrayal of the Klinghoffers. The original version of the work included an extended sendup of an American Jewish home, a scene subsequently cut. Goodman’s interplay of irony and rumination, so seductive in her first collaboration with Adams, “Nixon in China,” proved riskier here. The opposition of the Klinghoffers’ daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, should be noted, and the Met included a statement from them in the program.
Yet the opera has a way of eluding its critics; somehow, it absorbs each new controversy that threatens to engulf it. When, the other night, Marilyn Klinghoffer cried to the Captain, “You embraced them!,” she sounded very much like the protesters outside. Like it or not, “Klinghoffer” will be with us for a while, mirroring our fears.
The Met production, which had previously been seen at the English National Opera, is by Tom Morris, who directed “War Horse” on Broadway. In place of the ritual abstraction of Peter Sellars’s original staging, Morris opts for an enhanced realism, using sets and projections to conjure the faded beauty of the cruise ship. Photographs and captions give us background on the characters. The action is frenetic at times, especially when dancers mime the inner life of the teen-age militant Omar, but Morris knows when to clear away the clutter and give us stark, elemental images: a Mediterranean sun blazing in the sky, an old man in a wheelchair on deck, a young man inching forward with a gun. Most haunting was the moment when the terrorists depart: they walk off the stage and trudge up the aisle, exposed under a harsh spotlight, and stripped of whatever glamour they had acquired in their minds.
The cast did potent work under trying circumstances. (According to the Met, some of the singers had received personal threats.) Paulo Szot fluently assumed the part of the Captain, though he had a stiffer delivery than did James Maddalena, the creator of the role. Aubrey Allicock, in a notable Met début, found eerie beauty in Mamoud’s monologues. Alan Opie, despite his British diction, caught the blunt nobility of Klinghoffer. The singer who most tore at the heart was Michaela Martens, as Marilyn Klinghoffer. Her low voice gave foghorn strength to the opera’s desolate last lines, after the widow has refused the Captain’s empty condolences: “If a hundred / People were murdered / And their blood / Flowed in the wake / Of this ship like / Oil, only then / Would the world intervene. / They should have killed me. / I wanted to die.”
“Klinghoffer” is as much an orchestral drama as a vocal one: the instruments are always brooding behind the voices, fostering doubt. An effect of pinging electronic timbres mixed with scrawny strings is especially prominent in the terrorists’ later arias, giving them a tacky sheen. Full, rich textures, such as Adams readily supplies in his orchestral scores, come along rarely: there is the sense of a progressive hollowing. At the very end, downward-slumping phrases in the violas and cellos evoke shudders of grief. Robertson and the Met players, having wrung a maximum of tension from the score, gave that final page a Mahlerian pang—the last throb of a devoted heart. Then the opera simply stops. The most troubling thing about “Klinghoffer” may be that it offers no consolation, no way out. ♦
Alex Ross has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1993, and he became the magazine’s music critic in 1996.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 12:52