‘The Death Of Klinghoffer’ at the E.N.O. – review by Julia Pascal.

The man with a placard was standing on the Coliseum steps.

“This is the story of a disabled man murdered by terrorists because he was a Jew.  Have a nice evening.”

I half expected protests from the stalls but there were none.

The evening promises to be controversial.

Should opera take on hot political issues?  In 1985 the cruise liner The Achille Lauro was hijacked by Palestinians in the Mediterranean.  They threatened to blow it up if Palestinian prisoners were not released from Israeli prisons.  During the hijacking, Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly disabled Jew, was murdered and thrown into the sea.

Is this opera trying to justify the killing?

The answer is that it tries to connect the historical backstory to the Palestinian action.  Adams’ scenario works on three levels and within several parallel time zones from 1948 to 1985.  It explores a chorus of Palestinians, a chorus of Jews and intercuts both histories with the immediate drama on the ship.

Does this work?  Despite the placard man at the entry, I didn’t think Adams opera was partisan rather it showed the horror of the Palestinian death -wish as expressed in a murderous aria by a Palestinian mother who urges her son to hurry to Paradise.  It is a hugely ambitious project and, where it works best is when it focuses on the individual story of Marilyn and Leon Klinghoffer.  There is something touching about their mature love and this reaches an apotheosis in the magnificent last moment of the opera when the newly widowed Marilyn sings of her loss.  Here Alice Goodman’s libretto really feels fresh.

However musically the opera is mainly monotonous.  Whereas Adams’ Nixon in China achieved a musical originality, here there are too many longueurs.  Goodman’s text is quite patchy.  At times the language is natural whereas there are stiff moments when she strives for a pseudo biblical reference.  The angry Palestinian chorus at the end of Act One is a startling scene where staging and musicality synthesise but there are too many dull passages in this long evening where the music does not match the power of such provocative subject matter.

Julia Pascal © 2012