Performance | Entertainment … Or What? | Modern Era | Opera
John Adams, a purveyor of much-admired and accessible music has had his opera, The Death of Klinghoffer performed across the world. The troubling story, set on a cruise ship, addresses the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish man, by Palestinian hijackers. While meeting controversy about its subject matter, it would seem that for previous productions the argument had prevailed that art should have the liberty to unsettle and perhaps provoke audiences with difficult, and sometimes upsetting, themes.
However, shortly before its 2014 production, the Met in New York announced that the performances would no longer go ahead. While some critics appreciated the work of Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman, in considering the views of each ‘side’ in the story, others were distressed that Klinghoffer seemed to be an unsympathetic character, concluding that the piece was anti-Semitic and gave too much consideration to the Palestinian terrorists. Eventually, an awkward compromise was reached: the performances would stay, but the Met’s international broadcast (a highly successful means of reaching new audiences) would be cancelled.
Funders of the Met had a strong voice in this debate, with some patrons threatening to withdraw their financial support if the production was not cancelled. This also brings to the foreground the sensitive matter of the power of patronage: should contributing financially to the arts give donors the authority to decide what the arts might be permitted to address?
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