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Death of Klinghoffer, The

(John Coolidge Adams/Alice Goodman)

This true-life opera was first performed in 1991 in Brussels, Belgium with the libretto written by Alice Goodman and the concept being suggested by the theatre director Peter Sellars.  It is the story of Leon Klinghoffer who was a passenger that was killed on the ship, Achille Lauro, which was hijacked in 1985 by the Palestinian Liberation Front.  The music is said to have been inspired by Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Johann Sebastian Bach’s sacred oratorios and likened to the minimalist style of Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Act I deals with the various narratives by the characters on the events surrounding the hijacking.   Act II opens with a chorus and deals with the terrorists and the demands that they are making, with Klinghoffer ultimately being led away and his subsequent death.   It was extremely controversial in the United States when it was first performed with the accusation of “romanticizing terrorists”, but there has since been a Priz Italia award-winning television version made in Britain for Channel 4, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra with John Adams conducting, and has also been performed by the Scottish Opera.  The Los Angeles Opera apparently shared in the commission of it, but have never performed it.

Orchestra of the Opera de Lyon
Nonesuch NONE 79281 (CD: The Death of Klinghoffer)
Conductor – Kent Nagano