Let's Make an Opera

by Janet Tassel (August 2014)

The following is an abridged version of The Death of Klinghoffer, ostensibly an opera, but really a tedious political disquisition set to unlistenable music by John Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman. Adams's opera, as you know, takes place on an Italian cruise ship, and the only real action occurs offstage: 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish cripple in a wheelchair, is unceremoniously shot and dumped into the sea by four Palestinian punks.

Interestingly, the opera has become a cause célèbre in the gay community, who have taken to their opera websites in high dudgeon, blasting away at Jews and their money and power, Zionists, Israel, the ADL and the Met's Peter Gelb (for their "deal" to cancel the HD movie), and everyone else involved in "censoring" this rather pedestrian political tract.

Take, for example, the comments on Parterre Box (www.parterre.com), the pre-eminent website for opera-obsessed gays, or queens, as they call themselves, and for opera-lovers like me, the place for opera information, history, and gossip.

Run by New York critic James Jorden, whose web handle is La Cieca, or blind woman (a character in Ponchielli's La Gioconda), Parterre Box is loaded with reactions to the Klinghoffer affair, some reasonable, and … others. Among the latter: A blogger called Opinionated Neophyte says, "Literally any critique of Israel is the equivalent of calling for Holocaust, part 2." Dabrowski chimes in, "…For the past decade and a half, this country [Israel] has piled up hundreds of thousands of Arab and other Muslim corpses…yet 'Klinghoffer' is what the ADL is worried about?" Chirper says, "I'm Jewish, too, and these morons make me want to vomit." Then there is Oedipe: "We need a final solution for Israel. Fast." (This one did get a warning from Jorden.)

These bloggers--  sophisticated, savvy-- seem blissfully unaware that in "Palestine," they would be strung up in the nearest town square.  And in a further irony, they would find themselves warmly welcomed in Tel Aviv, where they could parade as Our Ladies of Perpetual Indulgence, Middle East chapter.

This is the background, then, of our sad little parody. We have substituted a helpless gay man, Chutney Ferritz, for a helpless Jewish man, Leon Klinghoffer. We have eliminated secondary characters, political soliloquies, pseudo-philosophical expositions, solos, and choruses, so our version is blessedly brief. An added bonus is that it spares the reader Adams's music.  

Except for certain names and designations, all wording, tiresome as it is,  comes from Adams and Goodman's original libretto. 





Cast of characters

The Captain

Molqui, Terrorist

Mamoud, Terrorist

Rambo, Terrorist

Omar, Terrorist

Chutney Ferritz, disabled, wheelchair-bound, gay

Lavendar Ferritz, Chutney's husband


The Scene

An Italian cruise ship off the coast of Egypt



Prologue. Pretentious and predictable Palestinian agit-prop. Skip to:


Act One


The sailor's consolation, is
Surely the night's analysis
Of the impressions of the day.
If, as some think, a life at sea
Differs in real terms from one
Spent on shore, it's in the element
Of comprehensive solitude
Which sharpens all one's senses.
…One detail
Awakened my anxiety.
The man gave me a komboloi [worry beads].
He was the last in line to shake
My hand; a man in very thick
Glasses, which magnified his eyes.
He took my hand in both of his
And mumbled something. All I heard
Was "Allah, Allah, Allah…."
At noon I went below. At one
Fifteen [a sailor] Bruno came
Into the cabin. He looked grim.
"Captain," he whispered, "you asleep?
We've terrorists on board the ship."
I ordered him on deck, then went
With others to the restaurant.
A strange sight. Terrifying. Shoes,
Handbags, some broken glass. Two boys
With guns. The people on the floor.
The intercom. Machine-gun fire.
"The Captain needed urgently
On deck." Then "We are here to die,"
Bruno, his hands upon his knees
And a gun pressed against his face.
Give these orders.
Nobody stirs
A limb: passengers,
Servants and sailors,
All remain calm. Tell them there is a bomb
In the engine room.
If we are betrayed
The ship will explode
And you will be dead….
This is a demonstration
Action for liberation..
…We are
Soldiers fighting a war,
We are not criminals
And we are not vandals,
But men of ideals.
We are sorry
For you. We don't worry
As we want to die.
It is you, it is they
Who desire to live.
I think if you could talk like this
Sitting among your enemies
Peace would come. [Theme of opera.] Now from day to day
Evil grows exponentially
Laying a weight upon the tongue.
The day that I
And my enemy
Sit peacefully
Each putting his case
And working towards peace
That day our hope dies
And I shall die too.
Act Two
We have killed
No one, but soon
People will die.
Every sound
That you can hear
Is a passenger
Afraid for his life.
There's nothing. No reply  [from shore].
[It] is not replying. I propose
We move out toward the open sea
Say a kilometer or so
Outside the territorial
Now we will kill you all.
Chutney Ferritz [in wheelchair]:
I've never been
A violent man;
Ask anyone.
I'm a person
Who'd just as soon
Avoid trouble, but
Somebody's got
To tell you the truth.
I came here with
My husband. We both
Have tried to live
Good lives. We're the
Kind of people
You like to kill.
You laugh.
You don't give a shit,
Excuse me, about
Your grandfather's hut,
His sheep and his goat
And the land he wore out.
You just want to see
People die.
You are always complaining
Of your suffering
But wherever poor men
Are gathered they can
Find homosexuals getting fat.
You know how to cheat
The simple, exploit
The virgin, pollute
Where you have exploited
Defame those you cheated,
And break your own law
With idolatry.
Is one big pervert.
Are you English?
Where English is spoken
You will find perversion
And all kinds of filth
Not practised by stealth
Late at night,
But on the street
During the day.
You wink at sodomy.
You laugh at blasphemy.
You give no charity
To the oppressed.
What did your watch cost?
Is it solid gold?
How many mouths could be filled
If this were sold?
Your wrists are thick
But I can make
Bigger ones crack.
We who remember
And have come far,
None of us more
Than twenty years old.
And have sailed
On a pleasure cruise
In disguise,
Our purpose
Hidden in pleasure,
Each soldier
A martyr
Preparing his heart
In secret,
Resigning his post
And the world's interest.
May we be worth
The gains of death
And not grow old
In the world
Like these queers.
Lavendar Ferritz:
My one consolation
Is that Chutney
Has gotten someone
To take him down
To the hospital.
I hope it isn't full.
I wish I'd seen him leave.
Someone should have
Let me know.
You'll forgive me
If I close
My poor eyes
And pretend
This never happened.
Who could have imagined
Such a business?
American kaput.
Take his passport.
Every fifteen
Minutes, one
More will be shot.
You cannot doubt
We mean what we say.
I said, Now you have made it clear
To the authorities on shore
That your demands are serious.
They know, but they have closed their eyes.
Very well, now you must go on:
Another death, another sign
That the world will refuse to see.
You speak of failure? I would say
You did not fail until you killed.
How many dollars
Have I got here?
I don't care.
There's plenty more.
Will any of you
Stand up and say
You'd like a few?
What will they buy
That anyone wants?
They came from the pants
Of an old pervert.
They're not very clean.
Lavendar, please sit down.
You must be tired. You haven't been
Down to your cabin yet. You have?
That's good.  I
Have something terrible to say.
It seems your husband has been killed.
There was no witness. I am told
His body was thrown overboard
In the wheelchair. I am afraid
It is true.
Lavendar Ferritz:
You embraced them!
And now you come,
The Captain,
Every vein
Stiff with adrenaline,
The touch of Palestine on your uniform
And offer me your arm.
I would spit on you
But my mouth is dry.
If a hundred
People were murdered
And their blood
Flowed in the wake
Of this ship like
Oil, only then
Would the world intervene.
[Insert Chorus here]:
As if.




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