Those of us who create for a living already face sufficient obstacles – the demands of the work itself and the fickle nature of the marketplace immediately come to mind. We are not, then, generally in favor of additional exasperation.
But that’s what Peter Gelb, who runs the Met, delivered to composer John Adams when he called him last Sunday. Yes, the Met would still produce his opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” next season but it would also cancel the broadcast of a performance in HD through its growing network of movie houses worldwide. The reason for this action, Gelb said, is the objection by some Jewish groups worried that though the opera itself is not anti-Semitic its themes and libretto humanizes all of the characters, even the perpetrators of an inhumane acts, and this could be misinterpreted in countries in which anti-Semitism is on the rise.
There is of course a legitimate reason for the existence of The Anti-Defamation League, and for the many other global organizations trying to expose systematic hatred. But the question here is, how far should the work of organizations guarding against the terrible consequences of bigotry extend, especially as it intrudes on artistic freedom? We’re not talking, after all, about Hitler mounting a display of “Degenerate Art,” showing Jews in the most unflattering ways. “Klinghoffer” is a genuine work of art that can be interpreted in a thousand ways by the thousand people who may see it at any HD movie theater.
When we sit at our our computer screens or at our pianos to compose operas we should be addressing the very things in our culture that raise such issues of conflict and propriety. The damage done by censorship in the name of preventing some untoward event that might happen is indefensible.
I love the Met. I go to many HD performances, and occasionally to live ones. I understand that’s is expensive to put on shows, especially when some stagehands earn $400,000 a year, and you need a lot of donors, and many of those donors also give to the Anti-Defamation League.
Nevertheless I want to see “Klinghoffer” not at the Met but in my usual place in a town in Connecticut where once there was an informal but effective ban against selling property to the likes of me.