Are you mesmerized by the works of contemporary artists Bill Viola, Shirin Neshat, and William Kentridge? Do you hold your breath at the subtle gestures embedded in William Forsythe’s choreography? Did Meredith Monk’s work (whose performances were utterly filled with undefinable sound) used to keep you up at nights? Have you felt the purity of Bach cello suites resonate in your hands and heart? Have you lost all track of time and place when listening to a choir rehearse in a cathedral in some tiny corner of Europe? Have you “seen” sound float up into the air when hearing a Urtiin duu (longsong)? And does the tender yet collapsing beauty of Prokofiev’s works make you close your eyes?
If some of this makes sense to you (and even if it doesn’t!), go experience Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer. You’ll discover unspoken pieces of the artists and sounds above throughout a moving and provoking performance. No need to get hung up on the formality or structure of opera–this production is simply and gloriously meaty art. The brilliant score, stunning chorus and orchestra performances, singing, lighting, staging, video projections, gestures, use of props, and stillness will wow you and make your heart ache a little in the communal darkness of the audience.
The Death of Klinghoffer is based on the true story of a hijacking of the ship, the Achille Lauro, in 1985, by Palestinian terrorists and the murder of one of the passengers, Leon Klinghoffer. The 1991 opera was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams with an evocative and poignant libretto by Alice Goodman.
Conductor Michael Christie literally eats this score up. If you have a chance, sit in the theater where you can see him conduct. He sings every word with the artists on stage and wraps the orchestra (members of the St. Louis Symphony) together so cohesively, despite the crazy entrances, textures, and meter changes. Stage Director James Robinson has brought together a subtle, smart, and powerful vision of this opera. I absolutely loved the video projections of Greg Emetaz. Chorus Master R. Robert Ainsley did a superb job with the chorus whose moments on and off stage were some of the most memorable sounds in an opera production that I’ve ever heard. Baritone Brian Mulligan who performs the role of Leon Klinghoffer, was a standout. Beyond having an incredibly rich, solid, powerful, and tender voice, he has a unique dreamy yet somehow familiar sound. He sounds like coming home. For me, Brian Mulligan sings so perfectly the most moving phrase of the entire production. This phrase is seemingly so mundane, yet subtlety holds the immensity of everything that this story, this history, and this opera stirs up. Leon Klinghoffer sings to his wife surrounded by terrorists on the sunny deck of the ship in their last moment together (although they don’t know it yet), “I should have worn a hat.”
A huge bravo to Opera Theatre of St. Louis for having the courage to bring this production to light, the intelligence to present meaningful outreach and very thoughtful commentary and discussion, and the creativity and persistence to generate support from the community both in St. Louis and beyond. I feel lucky to have experienced this production.
(The only tiny criticism I feel worth mentioning… the bird “puppet” on a stick at the end was too literal and looked very awkward from the side seats. It kind of broke the moment.)
Three performances of The Death of Klinghoffer remain. Tuesday, June 21 at 1 pm; Thursday, June 23 at 8 pm; and Saturday, June 25 at 8 pm. Tickets $25 to $120. Special promotion for the Tuesday, June 21 at 1 pm show ONLY: mention the promo code HOOKYDK online or when you call the box office, and get tickets for $35 in section 2 of the theater. These seats are regularly $100 each.
Recent reviews of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s The Death of Klinghoffer
The Death of Klinghoffer discussion guides on the Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s web site.Photo: Opera Theatre of St. Louis