It was opening night at the Metropolitan Opera and several hundred protestors had gathered at Dante Park across from Lincoln Center to express their outrage.
It certainly wasn't for what was on stage last night – a terrific production of "Nozze di Figaro" where only a bit of a nudity at the very start might have raised an eyebrow. The sturm und drang is over a production of John Adams' opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" – which deals with the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists and the killing of one of its passengers, New Yorker Leon Klinghoffer.
I wrote about the objections of the opera's detractors three months ago but sadly little has changed – besides the opera company narrowly avoiding an unrelated lockout in a nasty labor dispute. The Met squeezed through that rabbit hole but is now back where it started with the Klinghoffer controversy.
The protestors claim the opera presents some sort of moral equivalency with the terrorists and the victims getting equal billing on stage. There are two choruses at the start of the opera, one for exiled Palestinians, the other for exiled Jews. But while we certainly hear from the terrorists, it is Klinghoffer who ultimately displays humanity and intelligence while his killers act like the hateful and racist thugs that they truly were.
Perhaps because the opera is not a movie like "Munich" and not attempting to be a literal presentation of what happened, some people are unsettled. How can something so brutal create a thing of beauty? At this point, though, criticism or interpretation of the 1991 opera have largely gone out the window. It has largely turned into a litmus test to prove your political bona fides to a group of protestors who somehow see "Klinghoffer" as an affront to Judaism and the state of Israel.
Former Governor George Pataki, Congressman Eliot Engel, Assemblyman Dov Hikind last night led the charge to shut down "Klinghoffer" before it opens next month. One speaker even called for the opera’s sets to be “burned to the ground.”
The protestors also unleashed some of their venom on the opening-night crowd – which was there for Mozart, not Adams – treating the black-tie VIPs like they were wearing fur to a PETA convention.
With advocacy groups and editorial pages all taking their predictable positions, the fight over "Klinghoffer" seems like a lost chapter from "The Bonfire of the Vanities" with everyone picking up their favorite piece of thread and pulling in the fight over New York's tapestry.
As sad and as stupid as this fight is, the one consolation is that opera and art can still start a fight. Meanwhile, I'd simply urge everyone to listen to the opera themselves – or watch some of it on YouTube before heading to the barricades and trying to stop the music.