The Death of Klinghoffer
by John Adams
Libretto by Alice Goodman.
In 1985, Palestinian Terrorists hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro and senselessly murdered a Jewish-American passenger. Adams’ landmark opera is a microcosm of human tragedy triggered by ongoing conflict. The passionate score waxes and wanes with the frantic pulses of the captive passengers and the endgame is the long overdue SoCal Premiere of an opera LA Times calls a “rare insight into the most troubling and destructive political and cultural division of our age.”
Here is what [The Death of Klinghoffer] does do: Explore the roots of a conflict that has shaped our era, demonstrate the common humanity of all those involved in it, condemn violence and shine a light on the everyday heroism of ordinary people ... The music in "Klinghoffer" varies from lyrical to edgy, mechanistic to ecstatic." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
This opera is a work of art, and the story, dialogue and dramatic effects it contains are not intended to be an historical accounting of the events that transpired on the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985.
Adams on "The Death Of klinghoffer
“I knew that this subject would inevitably be a hot potato and likely draw us into any number of heated controversies with all sides of the Middle East conflict. But I found myself instantly drawn to the story, principally because the murder of this man, Leon Klinghoffer, possessed a strange, almost biblical feeling. On the one hand, having come to our attention through the strident medium of television, it had the nervous, highly charged immediacy of a fast-moving media event. On the other, the man’s murder, played out against a background of impassioned claims of Jews and Palestinians alike, touched a nerve that went deep into the body politic of our lives as comfortable, self-satisfied Americans.” (From pp152-153 of Hallelujah Junction)
John Adams has harnessed the rhythmic energy of Minimalism to the harmonies and orchestral colours of late-Romanticism. He brought contemporary history to the opera house with his post-modern music-theatre works Nixon in China (1987) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and Doctor Atomic (2005). Has addressed urgent social issues with passion and empathy, both in his operas and in such works as I Was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky, El Dorado, and The Wound-Dresser. His works are much favoured by choreographers, with multiple ballet versions of Fearful Symmetries. He is the winner of the 1995 Grawemeyer Award for Violin Concerto. Adams has a series of recordings on the Nonesuch label. A recent survey shows him to be the most frequently performed living American composer of orchestral music. Adams joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the new position of Creative Chair, beginning with the world premiere of City Noir Oct 8, 2009.
ALICE GOODMAN - LIBRETTIST
American poet Alice Goodman was born 1958 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and attended and graduated from Breck School. She was raised as a Reform Jew, and is currently an ordained Anglican priest serving in England. She was educated at Harvard University and Cambridge where she studied English and American literature. She has written the libretti for two of the operas of John Adams, Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer. Goodman resumed writing with John Adams on the opera Doctor Atomic, however she withdrew from this project after a year. Goodman married the noted British poet Geoffrey Hill in 1987. In 2006, Alice Goodman took up the post of chaplain at Trinity College, Cambridge.
The Achille Lauro Hijacking
On October 7, 1985, four men representing the Palestianian Liberation Front (PLF) hijacked the Italian MS Achille Lauro liner off Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said. Muhammad Zaidan, leader of the PLF, masterminded the hijacking. One elderly Jewish man in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered by the hijackers and thrown overboard.
Throughout the 1980s, the PLF launched attacks on both civilian and military targets in the north of Israel across the Lebanese border. The attack was perpetrated as retaliation for the Israeli bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis a couple of days earlier, which had killed 60 PLO members, including several leaders of Force 17, and several of Yasser Arafat's bodyguards.
On October 7, 1985, four PLF militants hijacked the Achille Lauro liner off Egypt. The hijackers had been surprised by a crew member and acted prematurely. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they directed the vessel to sail to Tartus, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinans then in Israeli prisons.
Murder of Leon Klinghoffer
The next day, after being refused permission by the Syrian government to dock at Tartus, the hijackers singled out Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish retired businessman who was in a wheelchair, for murder, shooting him in the forehead and chest as he sat in his wheelchair. They then forced the ship's barber and a waiter to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. Marilyn Klinghoffer, who did not witness the shooting, was told by the hijackers that he had been moved to the infirmary. She only learned the truth after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said. PLO Foreign Secretary Farouq Qaddumi said that perhaps the terminally ill Marilyn Klinghoffer had killed her husband for insurance money; however, the PLO later accepted responsibility, apologized, and reached a financial settlement with the Klinghoffer family.
The ship headed back towards Port Said, and after two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for safe conduct and were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner.
President Ronald Reagan deployed the Navy's SEAL Team Six and Delta Force to stand-by and prepare for a possible rescue attempt to free the vessel from its hijackers.
Reagan ordered that the plane be intercepted by F-14 Tomcats from the VF-74 "BeDevilers" and the VF-103 "Sluggers" of Carrier Air Wing 17, based on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, on October 10 and directed to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella, a NATO base in Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested by the Italians after a disagreement between American and Italian authorities. The other passengers on the plane (including the hijackers' leader, Muhammad Zaidan) were allowed to continue on to their destination, despite protests by the United States. Egypt demanded an apology from the U.S. for forcing the airplane off course.
Leon Klinghoffer (1916 – 1985)
Leon Klinghoffer, 69, a retired businessman who was in a wheelchair, and his wife Marilyn (née Windwehr), were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary with a cruise on the Achille Lauro. He was murdered on October 8, 1985 by hijackers from the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) and was thrown overboard. Klinghoffer's body was found by the Syrians on October 14–15 and returned to the United States around October 20. His 800-person funeral was held at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. Leon Klinghoffer was buried at Beth David Memorial Park in Kenilworth, New Jersey. Four months after her husband's murder, Marilyn Klinghoffer (October 5, 1926 – February 9, 1986) died of colon cancer, aged 59. The Klinghoffers are survived by two daughters, Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer.
The Klinghoffer daughters had no role in the making of the opera, and have publicly expressed concern that it “attempts to rationalize, legitimize, and romanticize the terrorist murder of our father.”
the leon and marilyn klinghoffer memorial foundation
"Following the terrorist murder of our father, Leon Klinghoffer, our family’s mission became clear. If this could happen to our father, this could happen to anyone, anywhere—and we were going to do whatever we could to put a human face to the deadly reality of terrorism. Within months, we joined with ADL to found the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League—which was created by our mother, and remains an essential part of our life’s work today. For over 25 years now, the Klinghoffer Foundation has educated about terrorism and its victims. We promote effective counter-terrorism strategies by governments, law enforcement and society. We recognize and honor public officials who take action against terrorism with the Klinghoffer Award. And, we meet with law enforcement from around the country to share our experiences, explain the sensitivities required in dealing with terrorist victims and their families, and most of all, we thank them for their contributions in the fight against terror." -Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer
The prologue to the opera consists of two choruses, the "Chorus of Exiled Palestinians" and the "Chorus of Exiled Jews", each of which is a general reflection about the respective peoples and their history.
The unnamed Captain of the Achille Lauro recalls the events of the hijacking. Prior to that, most of the passengers had disembarked in Egypt for a tour of the Pyramids, and the ship set out to sea to return later for the touring passengers. The hijackers had boarded during the disembarkation. When the hijackers commandeer the ship, the passengers still on board are collected in the ship's restaurant. The narrative shifts to a Swiss grandmother, traveling with her grandson whilst the boy's parents are touring the pyramids. The ship's first officer, given the fictitious name of Giordano Bruno, informs the Captain that terrorists are on the ship and one waiter has been wounded. The Captain and First Officer try to keep the passengers calm. Molqi, one of the hijackers, explains the situation to the passengers at gunpoint. The Captain and Molqi have an encounter, where the Captain orders food and drink to be brought, and offers to let Molqi choose the food for the Captain to eat.
Following the "Ocean Chorus", Scene 2 introduces another hijacker, Mamoud, as he keeps guard over the Captain. Mamoud recalls his youth and songs he listened to on the radio. The Captain and Mamoud have a dialogue, in which the Captain pleads that individuals on the two sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could meet and try to understand each other. Mamoud dismisses this idea. During this scene is a passenger narrative by the Austrian Woman, who locked herself in her cabin and remained hidden throughout the hijacking. Act I ends with the "Night Chorus."
Act II begins with the "Hagar Chorus", related to the Islamic story of Hagar and the Angel, and the Biblical story of Hagar and Ishmael. It represents the beginnings of Arab-Israeli tension, of which the hijacking is one historical result.
In Scene 1, Molqi is frustrated that he has received no reply to his demands. Mamoud threatens all of the passengers with death. Leon Klinghoffer sings, saying that he normally likes to avoid trouble and live simply and decently, but going on to denounce the hijackers. Another hijacker, called "Rambo", responds in harsh terms about Jews and Americans. The passenger, the British Dancing Girl, recalls how well the fourth hijacker, Omar, treated her and the other passengers, for example, letting them have cigarettes. Omar sings of his desire for martyrdom for his cause. At the end of the scene, Omar and Molqi have a dispute, and Molqi takes Klinghoffer away. The "Desert Chorus" follows.
Scene 2 starts with Marilyn Klinghoffer talking about disability, illness, and death. She thinks that her husband Leon was taken to the ship's hospital, but he was shot, off-stage. The hijackers have ordered the Captain to say they will kill another passenger every fifteen minutes. Instead, the Captain offers himself as the sole next person to be killed. Molqi appears and says that Leon Klinghoffer is dead. The "Aria of the Falling Body (Gymnopédie)", sung by Klinghoffer, follows.
The "Day Chorus" links Scene 2 to Scene 3, which occurs after the hijackers have surrendered and the surviving passengers have disembarked safely in port. The Captain remains to tell Marilyn Klinghoffer the news of her husband's death. She reacts with sorrow at her husband's death and rage towards the Captain, for what she sees as his accommodation of the hijackers. Her final sentiment is that she wishes that she could have died in Leon's place.