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Klinghoffer and Artistic Freedom Die

Klinghoffer dies twice

Klinghoffer dies twice

If you write fiction, nonfiction, poetry or any combination of these, the recent tragic aria sung at the Metropolitan Opera House should make you shiver.

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.

25 Books I Love To Hear (Part 1)

I listened to my first unabridged audio book in 1989 while commuting. In all over the last 25 years, though that commute ended long ago, I’ve heard more than 200 novels, memoirs and nonfiction books. Brilliant actors such as Henry Strozier, Barbara Rosenblatt, Simon Vance, George Guidall and John McDonough have made great books jumpContinue Reading

Fearing a Poet’s Power

Ricky Greenfield died last month. He was an accomplished businessman who, steadfast in his intolerance, became my literary benefactor. And for that I remain grateful. Many years ago, Greenfield bought the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, a weekly that circulated around the state and once — in the golden age when people actually read newspapers — hadContinue Reading

Make Lunch, Write a Book

How do books come about? The most common way is when a writer gets an idea and then slaves over that idea for anywhere from ninety days (the remarkable achievement of memoirist Carlos Eire, in “Waiting for Snow in Havana”) to a decade (Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding”) or more. Another method of creation:Continue Reading

The John McPhee Reader

John McPhee’s work appears in nearly every writing class I teach. I offer it as a prime example of the carefully constructed and compelling narrative, though I have little interest in the subjects he writes about. I was never curious, for example, about the geology of the Grand Tetons or the intricacies of cattle brandingContinue Reading

Writing, Italian Style

They’ve gone. They’ve packed their laptops, narratives and memories of a week together on the Amalfi Coast. Here, they read and critiqued (with love) each other’s work. They laughed and cried and hugged and, when parting, swore to stay in touch. We all ate meals so irresistible it seemed we could raise funds for theContinue Reading

Writing LBJ

An hour before the curtain of “All the Way” at the Neil Simon Theater, two middle-aged women walked past the marquee and saw the oversized photograph of Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Baines Johnson. “Look,” said one. “It’s Mr. White. I didn’t know he was on Broadway.” Referring, of course, to Cranston’s breakout role in “Breaking Bad”Continue Reading

Amalfi Calls Wally Again

That’s Wally Lamb and yours truly looking at something in Praiano. Our gazes are upwards, obviously, so it’s not likely we’re peering at the unrepentant goat that ate Suzanne’s silk scarf. It may just be that we’re admiring the hillside town itself where Wally, Suzanne and I spent  a week last March with the firstContinue Reading

A Toast to Billy Collins

About thirty minutes before the reading by Billy Collins on Wednesday evening, the gates closed at Hill-Stead Museum.  No more cars could be accommodated. It was another poetry traffic jam in Farmington, Ct. By then 1,600 people filled Hill-Stead’s sunken garden. As they awaited the former U.S. Poet Laureate, another 96, many in party attire,Continue Reading

Carolyn Forche and Col. Gaddafi

The subject of the nefarious Colonel did not come up right away. First, there was more digestible dinner conversation in the hour before Carolyn Forche’s recent reading at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. Though she is known  especially for exposing human rights violations, Carolyn recounted a very different phenomenon –a new form of, well, ghostContinue Reading