The Death of Klinghoffer

Photo: Metropolitan Opera

By Eric Sweeney

It’s a little after the fact that I am posting this review as I saw the opening performance of the Met’s latest production, The Death Of Klinghoffer, which took place on Monday, October 20.  But what better way to start ClassicalMusic.NYC than with what has been the most controversial classical music event of the current season.

As I emerged from the 66th street subway station, I was met by a police officer who asked me if I had tickets to the show.  “Not on me, officer, but they are at Will Call.”  He let me through where I was again faced with a second NYPD officer asking the same question.  I gave hime my answer and was quickly ushered into the barricaded Lincoln Center Plaza.  It was a strange experience to go to a performance at The Met that was causing so much hubbub.  A very large group of operagoers faced out across Columbus Ave gawking and taking pictures of the mob of angry protestors.  It felt like a trip to the zoo. But who were the animals?

I was nervous as I entered the house of The Met. I think the woman sitting next to me captured my state well:

“If you pull out a flag or something, I won’t hit you, but I will yell really loud at you.”

The tension in the hall was absolutely palpable; the silence hung as everyone was afraid to applaud. Then the downbeat, we were off.

John Adams’ music is simply stunning.  Klinghoffer gives us several excellent examples of Adams’ exquisite choral writing, including the two choruses of the prologues. The “Chorus of Exiled Palestinians” floats hauntingly over the pulsating orchestra like an ancient melody from the past. The “Chorus of Exiled Jews” sounds religious with its heavy use of the male chorus and open fifths. This was truly the Met Chorus at their absolutely finest.

Adams uses his particular brand of Minimalism to write the score.  Rhythmic repeated chords aboundnbut never become boring or grating. Much like the story, however, the music takes its time unrolling and unfurling.  Though it does not change quickly, the music remains tuneful and interesting, even to the point of using electronics and amplification.

The biggest problem with the opera is the libretto.  Alice Goodman’s overly poetic libretto does not lend itself to storytelling.  The images she uses are so abstract and esoteric it is easy to forget what is being talked about. This is less true in the dialogue scenes. The show is in need of editing. Several scenes could be leaner (Mrs. Klinghoffer’s final aria) or cut altogether (the British Dancing Girl’s aria, though i understand it’s function, was very jarring and broke the flow of Act 2).

The singers poured themselves into their performances and managed to add humanity into an event that is inhuman and senseless.  The clear stand out is Michaela Martens who gives a stunning portrayal of Marilyn Klinghoffer.  Young bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock gives a sensitive performance as Mamoud, one of the terrorists. The terrifying “Night Chorus” physically demonstrates the making of a terrorist.

The stunning set by Tom Pye is appropriately stark and concrete-based that is complimented by Finn Ross’s excellent video design. Director Tom Morris’ concept of the “press conference” for the beginning of the show mostly works though doesn’t allow for much movement or visual interest. Much of the chorus staging is static as well, but kinetic dancing sequences make up for this. Morris’ on stage shooting of Leon Klinghoffer is to be commended as both theatrical and unapologetic. 

Were there outbursts from the audience? Yes, several times, but nothing compared to the roar and applause that the cast, creative team, and particularly John Adams received at the curtain call. I found it endearing that after the final curtain fell, you could hear a triumphant cheer coming from the crowd on stage, too.

Photo: Metropolitan Opera


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