Adams: The Death of Klinghoffer

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Adams
LABELS: Elektra Nonesuch
WORKS: The Death of Klinghoffer
PERFORMER: James Maddalena, Sanford Sylvan, Sheila Nadler ; English Opera Chorus,Opéra de Lyon Orchestra/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 7559 79281-2 DDD
Much to my surprise, I found myself enjoying this recorded Klinghoffer more than I did the 1991 world premiere staging in Brussels. There, Peter Sellars’s mind-bogglingly tedious production managed to anaesthetise a score which, though repetitious, consistently diverts the ear. This is not to say that Klinghoffer is vindicated on record as a dramatic masterpiece. It is emasculated by the pretentious, ponderous libretto of Alice Goodman – who could fill a decade’s worth of ‘Pseuds’ Corner’ with this single text – and Adams’s musical setting is oddly ‘off the peg’: the set-piece choruses, arias and duets could be easily interchanged without upsetting the dramatic structure. If Adams’s Nixon in China seemed like a modern equivalent of Handelian heroic comedy, Klinghoffer resembles a Handel opera in its juxtaposition of aria and choral commentary. The opening choruses of Palestinians and Jews in exile recalls Handel’s opposition of Israelites and Babylonians in Belshazzar. Like Handel, too, Adams has composed a theatre of the imagination – one, indeed, which requires an imagination rather more fertile than Sellars’s for its visual realisation.

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Still, the musical performance under Nagano is exemplary. James Maddalena is the captain of the Achille Lauro and Sanford Sylvan is moving as the hapless, wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer, whom the Palestinian hijackers murder and throw overboard. Sheila Nadler brings the opera to its stunned, hushed conclusion as his sorrowing wife. Hugh Canning