In 1985, four hijackers from the Palestinian Liberation Front boarded the Achille Lauro cruise ship with plans to murder Israeli soldiers when the ship reached it’s destination in Ashdod, Israel. When their plans went awry, they instead held everyone on board hostage and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians who were in Israeli jails. While the terrorists ultimately failed in their mission, they did murder one man while aboard the ship. Wheelchair bound, Jewish-American Leon Klinghoffer was on board with his wife celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. The hijackers killed Klinghoffer and threw his body overboard on October 8, just three days after his wife’s birthday. Under the direction of President Ronald Reagan, the hijackers were later arrested by Italian authorities. Klinghoffer was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Now fast forward to 1991. The story of the murder of Klinghoffer has been made into an opera and is premiering at the Théatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium. It isn’t the first time art has depicted a tragic reality and it won’t be the last. However, in the case of The Death of Klinghoffer, the opera is immediately met with controversy. It isn’t the first time art has been met with controversy and it won’t be the last. But when is it okay to create controversy with art and when is it the case that the art is simply in bad taste?
This month, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City has resurrected The Death of Klinghoffer with plans for it to run through mid-November. Once again, many are upset that the opera is being staged and protesters took to the streets the day of the premiere.
Their main complaint is the blatant anti-semitism that seems to encapsulate the opera’s version of the story. The composer, John Adams, and librettist, Alice Goodman, have been accused of having anti-Jewish sentiments in their previous works. In fact, Goodman renounced her Jewish heritage during the writing of The Death of Klinghoffer and joined the Anglican church. Within the opera, the hijackers sing about being “men of ideals” while they demonize the Jewish people. From The Jerusalem Post:
The Palestinians sing, “We are soldiers fighting a war. We are not criminals and we are not vandals but men of ideals.”
The principal terrorist says, “Wherever poor men are gathered, they can find Jews getting fat. You know how to cheat the simple, exploit the virgin, pollute where you have exploited, defame those you cheated and break your own law with idolatry.”
… the terrorist leader snarls at Klinghoffer, “America is one big Jew.”
In defending the opera, The Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, stated that Adams hoped “to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists, as well as in the victims.” (emphasis mine)
Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, have spoken out previously on what they consider the “exploitation of their parents,” and also believe the opera is anti-Semitic. Included in the playbill is a statement by the sisters, which reads in part:
Tonight, as you watch The Death of Klinghoffer, a baritone will play the role of Leon Klinghoffer, and sing The Aria of the Falling Body as he artfully falls into the sea. Competing choruses will highlight Jewish and Palestinian narratives of suffering and oppression, selectively presenting the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The terrorists, portrayed by four distinguished opera singers, will be given a back story, an "explanation" for their brutal act of terror and violence.
We are strong supporters of the arts, and believe that theater and music can play a critical role in examining and understanding significant world events. The Death of Klinghoffer does no such thing. It presents false moral equivalencies without context, and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. It rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father. Our family was not consulted by the composer and librettist and had no role in the development of the opera.
Terrorism cannot be rationalized. It cannot be understood. It can never be tolerated as a vehicle for political expression or grievance. Unfortunately, The Death of Klinghoffer does all this, and sullies the memory of a fine, principled, sweet man in the process.
Among the thousands that came out to participate in the demonstrations against The Death of Klinghoffer, was award-winning actor, director, writer and producer Tony Lo Bianco. Best known for his performance in the Academy Award-Winning film The French Connection, Lo Bianco has been a vocal ally to those who take issue with the opera. RedState spoke to Lo Bianco to get his opinion on why The Death of Klinghoffer should be put to rest.
RS: What prompted you to speak out publicly against the opera?
Lo Bianco: It’s a tremendous insensitivity and lack of understanding of what is happening in our country. It’s not so wonderful under any circumstances, but now, with a terrorist attack happening and beheading and what have you, this is a tremendous amount of insensitivity of what is going on in this country. The idea to give some kind of voice to the enemy at this time, at any time actually, is ridiculous. Let’s just always try to do the right thing and that is not the right thing to do. Our voices have been heard, we are protesting this opera. I think the publicity of it has been tremendous, the idea of getting us out there, and I hope others will pay attention to part of what’s happening in our country.
RS: What kind of message do you think this sends to the current terrorist forces we battle, such as ISIS?
Lo Bianco: Exactly. I think what’s happened in Canada should be a huge wake up call to all Americans and every people around the world. They want to have a caliphate, they want the whole world be under the Muslim doctrine and if you don’t agree, it’s cut off your head time. Unfortunately, it’s giving a bad name to some of the wonderful Muslim friends that are just in our country and are real good, wonderful people. But what’s happening here is just horrific and they have been not shy in saying what their intention is - to kill the Israelis and also to kill Americans. When are we going to understand that is what their plot and plan is? So we must take action against this. We have to get into a preventive role, not a reaction role. We don’t have to wait for more heads to be cut off or more atrocities to happen to women.
And I don’t understand where the women’s movement is in all of this. They want to commit Sharia Law against women. Does anybody know what Sharia Law is? Sharia Law is being promoted in our own country to become some of our laws. And Sharia Law is women should be stoned, women have no rights, if a woman is raped there must be five witnesses to it, if you walk outside and you’re not accompanied by someone in your family you are stoned, you are beaten, you are slashed with whips. I mean where are the women? Where are the women groups about this, especially the liberal who are very quick to take to the streets. Well, let’s hope that this happens, you know I’m not talking one side or the other, in terms of politically, I’m trying to talk common sense, logic and what’s happening. This is right in front of our faces.
RS: How is it having a Conservative-leaning point of view in Hollywood?
Lo Bianco: There are more people who think like me than there are who realize that. I just want to deal in common sense logic and from history. History is there and facts. I don’t care what side of the aisle you are on, let’s put up the facts - let’s see this is what happened, this is what the result is, this is what somebody did, period. There’s no side to this except the American side. It’s the protection of our country, our people and our future. I’m talking mostly about the future of the country. Without America the way it is, there is no world. I mean the world would be dominated. Look what happened in WWII, if we did not get involved in that war (even though we were late getting it and we had to react to a bomb on December 7, the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, then we finally got into it. Well, how many notices do we need?
RS: In your current show, The Little Flower, you play New York City three-term mayor Fiorello La Guardia. What do you think Mayor La Guardia would have to say about The Death of Klinghoffer?
Lo Bianco: The Little Flower is reflective of Fiorello La Guardia’s name Fiorello which is flower. He was the mayor of New York City for three terms, the greatest mayor New York City has ever had. He was also mayor of the country basically and also when we went to war, he was the head of civil defense of the country. The accomplishments that he was involved in are legendary and we all take for granted. He also said one of the biggest mistakes he ever made was when he came back from WWI, he voted in Congress to reduce our military capability. Then he realized what a stupid mistake that was because he thought, “We just won a war, nobody’s going to attack us again. Then he said, “Boy, did I make a mistake. We must have a military so powerful, so fierce that no country would dare dream of attacking us.”
That is the position America should be. And, you know, without America, we’re either dominated by Japan or Germany and we must understand that, that if we didn’t drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasake, millions of people, Americans, would have been killed if we didn’t get involved in that war. And the idea that we’re trying to fight a war against ISIS now like gentlemen, we just had years of history with fighting a war with being politically correct. We cannot fight a war like that. I’m not for boots on the ground if we are going to fight that same kind of war. We have to wipe them out, like we should have done when they were out in the desert marching before they were embedded in houses and homes. And we’re waiting now, we’ve waited for them to get strong before we’re now reacting. That doesn’t make any sense to anybody. You don’t just do that kind of war, you fight aggressively.