A lone protestor stood outside English National Opera on the opning night of John Adams’s controversial opera. His placard was subdued and to the point. Several operagoers stopped by to chat.
In the lobby, an elderly acquaintance announced his intention to boo. So far as I could tell, he refrained. There was no demonstration at the premiere – a false Sunday Telegraph story had predicted one – and the response to the opera by a packed house was respectful, if less than overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
My personal estimation of the piece dropped a notch in the first ten minutes and kept on falling. Alice Goodman’s libretto clunked as never before. There were so many clumsy and misplaced metaphors that my companion and I lost count.
To compensate for the wordiness and pseudo-worthiness of the script, director Tom Morris overdosed on visual metaphors, brandishing pro-Palestinian graffiti and an ominous West Bank wall – a barrier that was not built or dreamed of at the time of the terrorist murder of the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer in October 1985.
There is propaganda enough in the opera to obviate the need for such devices. Its most resonant line, from a chorus of Palestinian exiles, is ‘Israel laid all to waste’. The lines is repeated four times. There is no counterbalancing argument for the Israeli case. The Death of Klinghoffer is not, as I have stipulated elsewhere, anti-semitic, but it is anti-Zionist to the point of obsession.
Klinghoffer himself is portrayed sympathetically and sung with deep affinity by Alan Opie. Michaela Martins was equally heroic as his wife, Marilyn. Musically, the performance was the best I have heard, Baldur Broenimann exercising pinpoint control of the excellent ENO orchestra. The loudest applause was reserved for the composer, John Adams. The librettist did not take a bow.
This new ENO production is shared with the Metropolitan Opera. I doubt they will dare to transfer it to New York. I am not even sure they should. Apart from being one-sided, The death of Klinghoffer is starting to feel outdated.