Long Beach / Los Angeles Opera Preview: THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER (Long Beach Opera)

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by Tony Frankel on March 11, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

LBO MAKES A KLINGHOFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE

The big story this weekend isn’t the appearance of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer. Since its arrival in 1991, the opera has been encircled by controversy. Based on the true-life hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985 by Palestine Liberation Front terrorists, the title refers to Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound Jewish-American voyaging with his wife Marilyn. During the botched hijacking, the militants murdered Leon, whose body was forced to be tossed overboard by the ship’s barber and a waiter (Marilyn died of colon cancer four months after her husband’s murder).

Scene from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s production of THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER.

The debate began immediately upon the world premiere production, directed by Peter Sellars in Brussels. Alice Goodman’s English-language libretto refuses to favor victim over aggressor; instead of looking for fault or blame, she asks for accountability on all sides for the misconjecture and mismanagement surrounding the Middle East mess.

Scene from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s production of THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER.

The creators chose to give equal voice to both Israelis and Palestinians in regards to political background, and never intended Klinghoffer to be a historical accounting of the events on the Italian cruise ship as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said. Still, some critics and audience members judged the opera as anti-Semitic, claiming a sympathetic view was created towards the hijackers.

Scene from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s production of THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER.

That controversy has all but dissipated since 1991, and John Adams has been embraced as a hero of minimalist music. That’s no longer the headline story. The news this weekend is that, after 23 years, Long Beach Opera is presenting The Death of Klinghoffer for the first time in its entirety in the L.A. area. Directed by James Robinson—who helmed Klinghoffer for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis where he is artistic director—this rarely-produced work will only be offered twice: March 16 and March 22 at the Terrace Theater in downtown Long Beach. LBO’s artistic and general director Andreas Mitisek will conduct.

Scene from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s production of THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER.

Here is some more interesting news. Los Angeles Opera, who co-commissioned Klinghoffer, is not presenting the opera—at least not anytime soon. All of the other co-commissioners have staged it—Lyon Opera in France, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, San Francisco Opera—but L.A. Opera never did. One has to wonder if they were worried that the controversy would somehow create problems for the company.

Scene from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s production of THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER.

In 2009, the Los Angeles Master Chorale offered five of the seven choruses from the piece, but it took Long Beach Opera to finally offer a full production. Klinghoffer doesn’t try to make sense of the events or attempt to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but it does make us meditate on and confront the issues surrounding the mid-east. In a world where terrorism continues to thrive and some artists are afraid to produce controversial works, the arrival of The Death of Klinghoffer is a reminder that we shouldn’t give in to fear.

Scene from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s production of THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER.

production photos by Ken Howard/Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

The Death of Klinghoffer
Long Beach Opera
Terrace Theater
300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach
Sunday March 16, 2014 at 7 pm
Saturday March 22, 2014 at 2 pm
run time: 2 hours & 40 minutes with 1 intermission
sung in English with English Supertitles
for tickets, call 562.432.5934 or at www.LongBeachOpera.org

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