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The New York Metropolitan Opera’s first performance of The Death of Klinghoffer was met with vociferous protests Monday as demonstrators including former New York City mayor Rudy Giuiliani gathered outside the Lincoln Center to denounce the performance as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.
John Adams‘ opera Klinghoffer has proved controversial from its very first performances in 1991. The subject matter is based upon the 1985 murder of the wheelchair bound Jewish-American Leon Klinghoffer by members of the Palestine Liberation Front after they had hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.
Composer Adams addressed the controversy shortly before the West Coast premiere of Klinghoffer at the Long Beach Opera in March. Adams told The Hollywood Reporter: “I had an inkling that it would be controversial even before I started composing it…I had no idea that the feelings would be that deeply personal and that people would take such umbrage to the work.”
Protestors held up placards suggesting Klinghoffer glorified terrorism and shouted slogans at patrons who made their way to the premiere performance. Joining Giuliani at the protests were Congressmen Peter King as well as the former New York state governor David Paterson.
Current New York City mayor Bill de Blasio defended the Met’s right to put on the performance, suggesting that critics like Giuliani were suppressing free speech. At a press conference in Queens earlier in the day, de Blasio said that Giuliani “had a history of challenging cultural institutions when he disagreed with their content.”
The Met has also been vocal in defending Klinghoffer from accusations of anti-Semitism. A Met statement said: “The rumors and inaccuracies about the opera and its presentation at the Met are part of a campaign to have it suppressed. Klinghoffer is neither anti-Semitic, nor does it glorify terrorism. The Met will not bow to this pressure.”
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