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New York opera on Palestinian hijacking sparks anger

The Klinghoffers’ story has been adapted for the stage in an opera staged this week by the Metropolitan Opera in New York

Published: Updated:

It’s 1985 and a self-made man from Manhattan’s Lower East Side packs up and boards an Italian cruise ship with his wife. For Jewish Leon Klinghoffer, the holiday turned tragic after the ship was accosted by Palestinian hijackers off the coast off Egypt and he was shot in his wheelchair before being thrown overboard.

The Klinghoffers’ story has been adapted for the stage in an opera staged this week by the Metropolitan Opera in New York, called “The Death of Klinghoffer.” It is the latest version of the production, which was first staged in 1991, and features a score by John Adams, original direction by Peter Sellars and a libretto by Alice Goodman.

The opera centers on the story of the ill-fated cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, and 69-year old Klinghoffer, whose family has expressed criticism, according to a report by The Economist. About 400 protestors also took to New York’s streets on Monday, claiming the opera is inflammatory and anti-Semitic as some say it glorifies terrorism in the case of Klinghoffers’ tragedy. The magazine reported that some observers had criticized the opera, saying it likened Klinghoffer’s tragedy with the crumbling of the Palestinian statehood bid after Israel was recognized by the U.N. in 1948 in that the lives of both the man and the state had been cut short.

“Leon represents all the innocent victims of terrorism,” protester Elon Snyder to The Economist. “The opera starts to justify terrorism,” he added.

Another protester who claimed he knew Leon Klinghoffer personally said: “These people have no artistic right to do this opera.”

For all the controversy, the play has not received rave reviews, according to the magazine.

“After multiple viewings, the opera remains (to these ears) musically monochromatic and dramatically inert,” The Economist stated.

The opera was initially dubbed the “CNN opera” due to perceived attempts to give equal passion to all parties – the pamphlet featured a printed statement by Klinghoffer’s two daughters – however, the production has not garnered the donations usually gifted to such operatic performances with the pamphlet listing that only “2 Anonymous gifts” were donated.