This Monday New York’s Metropolitan Opera will open its season by presenting John Adams’ opera: “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
The opera dramatizes the conflict between Israel and Palestinian terrorists by enacting a debate over whether or not the terrorists should murder a Jewish American citizen, Leon Klinghoffer. In the end they did.
Much has been written about the Met’s decision. The opera company is defending itself on the ground of free expression. Its’ detractors are attacking it for choosing an opera that gives equal time and weight to the views of Klinghoffer and the terrorists.
Today, famed constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams addresses the issue in the Wall Street Journal.
He begins with the constitutional issue:
Mr. Adams’s opera is protected by the First Amendment and so is the Metropolitan Opera in its decision to offer it. It would be a gross and obvious constitutional violation if government sought to bar the opera from being publicly produced or imposed any punishment for doing so.
However, just because the First Amendment allows us to present the opera does not mean that we should do so.
But the controversy over the Adams opera cannot be dealt with by simple reference to the First Amendment or artistic freedom. Those who direct the Metropolitan Opera made a choice when they decided to offer Mr. Adams’s opera, and it is altogether fitting that they be publicly judged by that choice.
You ought to retain the right to make obnoxious and offensive remarks. The government ought not to be making laws criminalizing such expressions. And yet, the public has the right to judge your character when you do.
In order to expose the Met’s moral failure, Abrams offers a few hypotheticals:
Suppose the opera had been about a different murder and the Met offered an intense, two-sided operatic discussion of the desirability of the murder of, say, President Kennedy in a work called “The Death of JFK. ” Or a production about the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in which singers on the “side” of that assassination offer racist views in support of the murder. Or how about one on the death of one of the thousands of victims of the 9/11 attack that contained an extended operatic debate between her killers and herself about whether her death was justified.
Why would the Met choose to purvey terrorist propaganda in the guise of art? Does it believe that it can thereby occupy the moral high ground, by legitimating the actions of those who would destroy Western civilization.
This coming Monday evening the scene at New York’s Lincoln Center will surely be chaotic. Hopefully, those who find the choice of the John Adams opera appalling will be heard. And hopefully those who believe that the death of Klinghoffer is something that ought to be discussed and debated, rather than condemned will be judged harshly.
As Abrams argues, debating certain actions legitimates them: