October 23, 2014

DEATH VS LIFE:

Long Wake : "The Death of Klinghoffer," at the Met. (ALEX ROSS, 11/03/14, The New Yorker)

The protest failed because it relied on falsehoods: the opera is not anti-Semitic, nor does it glorify terrorism. Granted, Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman, do not advertise their intentions in neon. The story of the Achille Lauro hijacking is told in oblique, circuitous monologues, delivered by a variety of self-involved narrators, with interpolated choruses in rich, dense poetic language. The terrorists are allowed ecstatic flights, private musings, self-justifications. But none of this should surprise a public accustomed to dark, ambiguous TV shows like "Homeland." The most specious arguments against "Klinghoffer" elide the terrorists' bigotry with the attitudes of the creators. By the same logic, one could call Steven Spielberg an anti-Semite because the commandant in "Schindler's List" compares Jewish women to a virus.

In the opera, the opposed groups follow divergent trajectories. The terrorists tend to lapse from poetry into brutality, whereas Leon Klinghoffer and his wife, Marilyn, remain robustly earthbound, caught up in the pleasures and pains of daily life, hopeful even as death hovers. Those trajectories are already implicit in the paired opening numbers, the Chorus of Exiled Palestinians and the Chorus of Exiled Jews. The former splinters into polyrhythmic violence, ending on the words "break his teeth"; the latter keeps shifting from plaintive minor to sumptuous major, ending on the words "stories of our love." The scholar Robert Fink, in a 2005 essay, convincingly argues that the opera "attempts to counterpoise to terror's deadly glamour the life-affirming virtues of the ordinary, of the decent man, of small things." Moreover, subtle references to the Holocaust suggest that a familiar horror is recurring. "At least we are not Jews," an old Swiss woman says. "I kept my distance," an Austrian frigidly intones. The mellifluous, ineffectual Captain indulges in fantasies of appeasement, conversing under the stars with a silver-tongued terrorist named Mamoud.

Posted by at October 23, 2014 12:06 PM
  

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