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Giving Voice to an Act of Terror

All those entering the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Wednesday night had to empty their pockets and pass through metal detectors set up right inside the four doors to the spacious lobby. The reason behind the heightened security was the opening-night performance of John Adams’s opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” which had its United States premiere in 1991 at the academy, six months after its world premiere in Brussels. The opera has come back to the academy in an arresting new production, with Robert Spano conducting the Brooklyn Philharmonic, that will be repeated tonight and tomorrow night at the Howard Gilman Opera House. Few works in recent years have ignited more controversy than this audacious, multilayered opera about the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, by a group of Palestinian terrorists, which resulted in the brutal murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled American Jew. World events have intersected with each presentation of this work. As the critic Michael Steinberg points out in his liner notes for the 1992 Nonesuch recording, Mr. Adams began composing “The Death of Klinghoffer” in 1989, when the United States was lavishing support on Saddam Hussein. By the time of its 1991 premiere, he adds, America was “dropping `smart bombs’ down Baghdad ventilator shafts.” Just months after 9/11, the Boston Symphony Orchestra canceled a series of performances of excerpts from the opera, including the “Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians,” in deference to a member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus whose husband was on one of the planes that was crashed into the twin towers. As the work is presented again, the age-old hatreds in the Middle East continue to rage. Full Story

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