It is upsetting to some that, in this dramatization of the Achille Lauro hijacking, Adams and his librettist allowed insight into the terrorists’ interior minds and motivations (however misguided and murderous). Because grand opera companies are perhaps the only cultural institutions that fail to thrive on such public controversy, stagings of the Death of Klinghoffer have been rare, given the protests that greeted its New York premiere.
And yet, as Kent Nagano’s reading of the piece shows, this practical-if-unofficial ban is a shame. Klinghoffer, in addition to being a morally complex work, is also a musical knockout that features some of Adams’s greatest choral writing. (In fact, Adams wouldn’t top it until he was writing his 9/11 Requiem, “On the Transmigration of Souls.”) Scheduled performances of those choruses were canceled in Boston directly after 9/11, out of what was termed “respect,” but was really just deference to ambient cultural panic. In retrospect, that move appears clumsy, just as Adams’s opera seems worthy of another look.