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Klinghoffer video – how to put a ship on stage

English National Opera’s video designer, Finn Ross, reveals some of his tricks in a new clip for The Death of Klinghoffer, backed by an achingly beautiful aria.

“We needed to represent the world on the boat in a way which echoes the watery poetry of the music which is epic and beautiful, especially in the choruses. We did a lot of research into how we could recreate the experience of cruising the open seas within the theatre and discovered a boat in the Canary Islands which would allow us to film onboard. This was perfect as the weather there is very similar to the conditions the Achille Lauro would have been sailing in.”

See also here.

Elsewhere, the huffing and puffing of media rabbi Shmuley Boteach has been picked up by various newspapers as testimony of the opera’s anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-human nature. Shmuley also has a wacko new book to promote. It’s called ‘Kosher Jesus’.

The young Australian baritone Andrew Finden has been wrestling with the issues and the director Tom Morris describes the operas as being ‘pretty fearless in inhabiting different contradictory positions.’

We have also been sent a link to an important essay by Robert Fink on the 1991 US premiere of Klinghoffer, a perceptive analysis of one of the lesser themes of the opera – the question of an American-Jewish identity.

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  1. Hi Norman,

    The name Shmuley Boteach sounded familiar but couldnt quite place it, until you mentioned the name of his book. Then it came back, an ex-member of the BNP has been using the book as “evidence” that the Jews are corrupting society through a conspiracy to undermine current family values through promoting liberalism. Myself and others of course slapped her down but it does show how pernicious these ideas are

  2. I very much appreciate Robert Fink’s article and its study of American Jewish identity, but his perspective is much too selective to provide an accurate portrayal of the reception of “Klinghofer.” He suggests that the negative reaction to Klinghofer was due to the satirical portrayal of a Jewish American family near the beginning of the opera. He adds that the Jewish community’s sensitivities were heightened in the 90s because it had become associated with neo-conservatism, and that this stood in conflict with their traditionally liberal values. It’s an interesting thesis and a good read.

    The problem is that even if issues of identity played a role in the opera’s reception, they are not the main reason why the opera was attacked. Alice Goodman’s libretto humanizes the Palestinians, and suggests that both sides have legitimate complaints. This challenges both Jewish and mainstream American political opinion, and overall that has been the main source of the opera’s negative reception.

    We might remember that after the opera premiered, a play about Rachel Corrie was also shut down in New York City. Jewish identity was not at issue, but rather criticisms of American and Israeli policies concerning the Palestinians. And we might remember the recent fracas when one of the trustees of NYU tried to prevent Tony Kushner from receiving a prize given by the university, because Kushner believes that Palestinians were subjected to ethnic cleansing in 1948. The issues are principally political and not about identity.

    Mr. Fink also makes excuses for Richard Taruskin, claiming he was influenced by the initial critical reception of the opera. This is absurd. The very purpose of musicology is to take more distanced and objective views than newspapers can generally provide. Perhaps the biggest irony is that Mr. Fink’s article leaves the impression it is also shaped by unnecessarily limited perspectives and that he is trying to rationalize the censorship that has taken place – though I have to admit I am sympathetic to large parts of his effort. It illustrates the difficulties we all have addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the even bigger problems faced when trying to represent them in works of art.

    • Robert Fink says:

      Just two points:

      1. I don’t consider my argument in my piece to be “making excuses” for Taruskin; I completely agree with william osborne about the duty of a musicologist, and I thought I was being pretty clear that I expected better in this case from one of my academic mentors. (It was precisely the resorting to “musicology” — the false analysis of the orchestration — that set me off.)

      2. I respectfully disagree with the idea that issues of Jewish representation were “not the main reason.” Let’s be realistic: there was no “main reason”: Jewish critical reactions to the opera in NYC were colored by a complex mixture of how they felt about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict AND how they felt about themselves as Jews.

      It is probably true that now, after 9-11 and two more decades of intifadas and wars, anti-Palestinian feeling in the American Jewish community has become so reflexive and strong that it overshadows the question of representation altogether. But in 1991, every NY critic argued first from the way the Americans were portrayed, and on that basis decided the opera was too nice to the Palestinians.

      Remember the adjectives Taruskin used when he attacked European reception of Klinghoffer: “anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-bourgeois.” All three of these mattered to him. And notice, he didn’t say “anti-Israel.” Maybe he didn’t have to.

      • Thank you for your clarifications, Robert. I now better understand what you are saying. It’s true that views of the world are strongly shaped by self-perception. This phenomenological approach is very interesting. I appreciate your informed observations in this case, even if it is very difficult to objectively measure the correlations between self- and external perception. To one extent or another, political views will always be shaped by self-perception.

        It’s true that the on-going war has increasingly hardened and narrowed perceptions on both sides of the conflict. It would be interesting if a time-line showing these changes could be created. Are the divisions now significantly worse than they were in 1991? The Sabra and Shatila massacre, for example, predated “Klinghofer” by 9 years. Do events like that and others from the 1980s suggest that the views were essentially as hardened by 1991 as they are now?

        Is there a point when people become so hardened and embittered by war that they can no longer be counted upon to make rational judgments? In a case like that, what is the responsibility of their friends? Will an opera like “Klinghofer” that humanizes both sides have a healing effect, or only exacerbate the tensions? Does the recent spate of performances of “Klinghofer” after a long absence indicate that the views of the English-speaking world might be becoming more open and balanced? Would that be good or bad for Israel? Anyway, I look forward to any future writing you might do on this impossibly difficult topic.

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