Chourses for Klinghoffer
Related Artists/CompaniesJohn Adams
About the Work
The premiere of Klinghoffer took place in Brussels, in the spring of 1991 during the final weeks of the Gulf War. Perhaps in part because of its perceived topicality and the fact that violence in the Middle East was the theme of the day, the production attracted a great deal of media attention. But the response in Europe was strangely muted, and there seemed to be a general aura of disappointment over the fact that the opera, far from being a graphic exploitation of a terrorist episode, was in fact a ceremonial work of almost Attic formality, complete with choreography (by the Mark Morris Company) and the highly ritualized physical gestures which have become a hallmark of the Sellars style. Compared to the effusive, extrovert Nixon in China, Klinghoffer seemd to many a difficult, introvert piece, alternating between elegy and violence, and its reception and appreciation was further compromised by the highly charged nature of its subect. When the opera arrived in New York, where political feelings ran many degrees higher, the public and critical reception was intense. For many, Alice Goodmanâ€™s libretto was disturbing not only because the Whitmanesque clarity and simplicity of her Nixon libretto had given way to a rhythm and utterance that echoed in density and depth the Koran and the Old Testament, but also because, in her text, she gave utterance not only to the sufferings of the Jews, but to the Palestinians as well. The very words of the exiled Palestinian that open the opera seemed to some listeners not a simple statement of fact, but rather a provocation:
My fatherâ€™s house was razedThe performance presents five of the operaâ€™s seven large choruses plus three critical scenes:
In nineteen forty eight
When the Israelis passed
Over our street.
- the confrontation between the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer and the terrorist named "Rambo", so-called by the passengers because of his especially thuggish behavior and his predilection for wearing his weapons so conspicuously draped around his bare chest.
- the "Aria of the Falling Body", a soliloquy sung by the body of Leon Klinghoffer as it falls in slow motion through space to its eventual resting place in the ocean. This aria is cast in a slow "gymnopedie" in 5/4 time.
- the "Bird Aria", sung by "Mamoud" (all the hijackers had assumed noms de guerre for this operation), the most reflective and pessimistic of the terrorists. The captain of the Achille Lauro had spent the entire first night alone in the steering house with Mamoud, and their talk turned very personal and philosphical. Just before dawn a small bird had alighted on the captainâ€™s sleeve, prompting Mamoud to reflect on birds as a metaphor for freedom and purity.