Art And Terror in the Same Boat

The Death of Klinghoffer avoids politics but takes no prisoners

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Goodman, the Cambridge-based poet, writes vigorous, stark verse whose impact is almost physical. "My father's house was razed/ In nineteen forty-eight/ When the Israelis passed/ Over our street" are the first words of the opera, sung by a chorus of exiled Palestinians; later the Israelis get equal time. Goodman combines flights of fancy with earthy images and expressions -- this must be the first operatic libretto in history to employ the word asshole and the Yiddish meshugaas. Yet, as in Marilyn Klinghoffer's homey pieta, Goodman can soar. "I have only a short time," the widow sings after learning of her husband's death. "What can part us while I live? I grieve as a pregnant woman grieves for the unseen long-imagined son."

Expertly conducted by Kent Nagano, the cast included such Nixon veterans -- and Sellars favorites -- as Sanford Sylvan as Klinghoffer, James Maddalena as the ship's captain and Stephanie Friedman as one of the terrorists.

Some flaws: the comic prologue seems superfluous, sandwiched as it is between the potent Palestinian and Israeli choruses. Singing in English, the Belgian chorus was unintelligible; Goodman's dense text demands supertitles. And one does miss some of Nixon's stirring climaxes. But none of this should impede Klinghoffer's success. Already the opera has been scheduled by its other co-producers -- the opera companies of Lyon; Glyndebourne, England; San Francisco; and Los Angeles -- as well as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where it opens in September. This broad international debut will serve to confirm Adams, Goodman, Morris and Sellars as the foremost creative team working today on the operatic stage, and perhaps on any stage.

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