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Adams: reviews of The Death of Klinghoffer in London

(February 2012)

John Adams's opera The Death of Klinghoffer, examining Middle East politics through the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise liner, received its London stage premiere in February.

“John Adams' opera is a serious, beautiful and nuanced work that engages with one of the intractable tragedies of our era”. So was English National Opera's new production of The Death of Klinghoffer summed up in an editorial in The Guardian. The work's London stage premiere, 20 years after its premiere, was staged by Tom Morris and conducted by Baldur Brönnimann, with the composer attending the first night. The staging is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York where it is scheduled for performance in the 2014/15 season.

"...Adams’s music refuses to let go, pulling the audience deeper and deeper into the emotional conflicts of the story: the choruses of Palestinian and Jewish exiles resonate with the anguish of centuries past and the anxieties of the hostages are portrayed with an expressive immediacy hardly less involving. There is no minimalist note-spinning here. This is a masterful score and Adams at his best... It ought to be seen. Controversy or no, The Death of Klinghoffer is not going to go away."
Financial Times

“The theatrically vivid performance of Adams’ intense and moving score makes a strong point. Most important of all, this is probably the right production at the right time.”
Los Angeles Times

"Adams‘ choruses are, of course, the most inspiring part of his concept for Klinghoffer and in that ENO do him proud. Through them the piece becomes a meditation on the troubles - like spirituals or chorales folded into the tried and tested form of a Passion... The big arias are truly showstopping: the Palestinian mother (Clare Presland) whose son takes the life of Klinghoffer (the excellent Alan Opie) in an unflinching double-perspective which horrifically puts us right there in the moment. And who could not be moved by Michaela Martens’ storming final aria in memory of her husband."
The Independent

"Adams's music is far more than a glorified soundtrack to a true-life drama. The beautiful double-chorus of lamentation at the opening; the meditative arias entwined with instrumental obbligatos (often given a sensuous Middle Eastern twist); the way the music ritualises the action; all this suggests Adams aspiring to write a modern-day Bach Passion, and his achievement doesn't fall far short. Yet when tension needs tightening, no living composer uses the orchestra more chillingly. The passage where the youngest terrorist is brainwashed into murder by a fanatical Palestinian girl has an intensity that almost sears the flesh... There are no weak links in this absorbing and provocative production."
The Times

“Beauty, not controversy, lingers after Palestinian hijacking opera... The stage pictures are economical, carefully managed and effective – the chorus unfurl green flags as Palestinians, carry olive trees as Israelis. Little is stylised, though some episodes are choreographed and enough grainy realism remains to make the true nature of the tragedy vivid. What emerges clearly too from the performance under Baldur Brönnimann is the sheer beauty of so much of Adams's score, with its dark-hued sonorities, chromatically inflected harmonies and keening instrumental lines."
The Guardian

"Tom Morris’s confident and unpretentious new production for ENO makes the strongest case yet for experiencing the piece live and fully enacted. Morris manages to animate a basically static drama in a fluently stylised fashion that doesn’t invite bathos or unintentional comedy. Designers Tom Pye and Finn Ross make imaginative use of film and video, with textual projections signposting dates and facts behind the events. There’s a simple clarity at work here that is very effective."
Daily Telegraph

"It's taken an incredible 20 years for John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer to reach the London stage... Now at last ENO has had the courage to mount it, revealing it to be easily on a par with Adams's popular Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic... The Death of Klinghoffer is a brave and important work tackling one of the most intractable issues of contemporary world politics and it's difficult to imagine it much better done. Not to be missed."
Evening Standard

BBC Radio 3 broadcasts The Death of Klinghoffer, recorded at ENO, at 6.00pm on Saturday 12 May.

> More info on John Adams
> English National Opera
> John Adams website

> Further information on Work: The Death of Klinghoffer

Photo: English National Opera/Richard Hubert Smith

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