Synopsis - The Death of Klinghoffer
With music by John Adams set to a libretto by Alice Goodman, The Death of Klinghoffer is a meditation on the events surrounding the 1985 hijacking by the Palestine Liberation Front of the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro, and the murder of a disabled Jewish-American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer.
The defining events of the story take place off-stage. The opera begins with two choruses in which ‘Exiled Palestinians’ and ‘Exiled Jews’ reflect on the history of their peoples.
Act I introduces the Captain and the hijackers, Molqi and Mamoud. The Captain and crew try to calm the passengers, offering food and engaging in dialogue with the hijackers in an attempt to defuse the situation.
In Act II, the chorus recalls the biblical roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The passengers are threatened with death but cracks begin to appear in the hijacker's apparent ideological solidarity. Klinghoffer is taken away, and the Captain offers himself as a sole sacrifice. The hijackers surrender and the Captain tells Klinghoffer's wife Marilyn that her husband is dead. She rails against him for his apparent sympathy for the hijackers and wishes she could have died in her husband's place.
FINDING THE MIDDLE GROUND IN THE MIDDLE EAST
In confronting the complexities of the Arab–Israeli conflict, The Death of Klinghoffer was always going to attract controversy, no matter how impartial it was. That its 1991 Brussels premiere coincided with the First Gulf War did not ease its reception. Early US performances provoked accusations that it was ‘pro-Palestinian’ and ‘anti-Semitic’, while heightened sensitivities after 9/11 meant that it has not had a US staging since – although it is scheduled to run at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June 2011. The turning-point in the work’s ‘rehabilitation’ was a 2003 Channel 4 film version – shot on board a ship, and incorporating archive footage – directed by British film-maker Penny Woolcock, who later directed both Doctor Atomic and The Pearl Fishers for ENO.
As Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre, Tom Morris (brother of satirist Chris) transformed a small fringe venue into a hothouse of experimental theatre and nursemaided Jerry Springer: The Opera into a major succès de scandale. As Associate Director at the National Theatre he forged new links with visionary companies Punchdrunk and Kneehigh, and devised and co-directed the smash hit War Horse. Now Artistic Director of the Bristol Old Vic, he recently directed a much-praised version of Swallows and Amazons with songs by the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. Credited by the Telegraph with producing ‘some of the most inspired, inventive theatre in Britain today’, he now makes his opera directing debut with ENO.
A WORD FROM THE DIRECTOR
This new production seeks to explore the insights of Adams and Goodman in the light of some of the events since 1985. It will not take sides: nor will it pull its punches. It will seek, instead, rather as the Achille Lauro’s captain Gerardo de Rosa did in his memoir, to dramatise the situations of all of its protagonists as truthfully as it can, and in doing so to find moments of sense and hope in a story dominated by individual and collective struggle and suffering. We are inspired by the beauty and lyricism of the piece. It not only deals with the ‘real’ events but it also has a very strong, poetic and abstract thread; this isn’t a ‘kitchen sink opera’. This production illustrates that opera can be as relevant and engaged in this respect as theatre, film, poetry or any other artform.
Tom Morris, director of The Death of Klinghoffer
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