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New York, New York
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A New York harpist trying to figure things out - and the mishaps and adventures that inevitably ensue.

Weighing in on "Klinghoffer"

Kathryn Sloat

I’m late, I know. The Metropolitan Opera’s production of “The Death of Klinghoffer” is over, so it doesn’t really matter what I think. 

I did mean to write a more timely and relevant article. I meant to rush straight home after seeing the show and immediately bang out my thoughts. 

Instead, I found that I needed more time to process what I had seen (several weeks worth of time, apparently). 

First of all, whatever “side” you fell on with Klinghoffer, watching this opera was ROUGH. I often go to concerts and shows by myself, but this time I brought a friend, and boy did I ever need her. The whole story was sad and scary, and I was in tears by the end. And we’re not just talking watery eyes, we’re talking full-blown bawling. I snotted all over myself. Seriously, it was gross. But my friend was there to hold my hand. 

I’m not going to re-explain the whole controversy over the Met’s production of Death of Klinghoffer, so if you missed it, just Google “Death of Klinghoffer controversy” and you’ll get it. 

Personally, I did not think that the opera was biased in either direction, nor did I think that it tried to justify any of the violence depicted or discussed. As I often think when someone who criticizes the government is described as “unpatriotic,” I do not believe that criticizing or pointing out wrongdoing necessarily implies hate. It is possible to criticize a country’s actions without becoming their enemy. What is perceived as wrongdoing will vary depending on your point of view, and the opera showed different points of view. 

As for the argument that the opera portrays the terrorists as humans - well, yeah, they are humans. I thought the moments where they spoke rationally about their lives and terrible things that have happened to them certainly made them sympathetic characters - but only for a moment. Those moments, to me, only served to make their evil even more grotesque. Isn’t it scarier to think that they’re not just monsters, but humans, and that human beings are capable of such terrible things? This was especially illustrated in one scene where one of the terrorists sings very beautifully about losing his brother to the conflict. The captain of the ship, who is listening, tells him that if he could talk like this to his enemies, peace would come. The terrorist immediately snaps back that the day they all sit down in peace is “the day our hope dies.” They do not seem to hope for peace, but hope for revenge - a sentiment I do not think many in the audience would be sympathetic to. 

The Klinghoffers and most of the other passengers were, to me, the characters most people would be likely to identify with. Leon Klinghoffer, in particular, is the only person we see standing up to the terrorists. I saw the death of his character as the murder of an innocent person, in no way forgiven or justified. 

These are just my thoughts on the opera, and I completely respect the fact that many people disagree with them. What I don’t necessarily respect is that many of the most vocal protesters seemed to be judging the work without ever seeing it. I don’t think reading the libretto would be good enough in this case. You would really need to see it. I realize watching it would be offensive and possibly painful for many people. It was a painful experience for me, and I have no personal involvement in the issues of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I would never tell someone they were wrong to be offended by it. Everyone will interpret the opera based on their own experiences and feelings, and that is, obviously, completely valid.

Sorry this was so late, and also so jumbled. I had this idea that I was going to write a really great and coherent piece on this topic, and it ended up being kind of word vomit-y. I think my feelings on the controversy of whether or not the terrorists were the more sympathetic characters can be summed up in the fact that it was not any of the terrorists’ arias, but Marilyn Klinghoffer’s final scene where she sings about the death of her husband, that made me cry (a lot). 

PS - Stupid thing to forget, but I forgot to say - I thought the music and the performance itself were AWESOME. Again, there were many people who disliked it and that’s fine, but I thought it was great. The music was beautiful, the singers were amazing, and the orchestra played its heart out (I’ve seen the harp part, and man, is it difficult). One of the most impressive parts of the show was the chorus. There is a huge choral component to Klinghoffer, and the Met chorus did a fabulous job. The only parts that kind of lost me were some really prosy sections, where the music and poetry were lovely, but I didn’t really know what they were talking about. But besides that, I thought, really a magnificent piece of work.