Arts organisations up in arms as Met refuse to reinstate global broadcast of controversial opera.

The National Coalition Against Censorship have announced a new co-signer to its statement opposing the cancelled broadcast of The Death of Klinghoffer. As Limelight reported last week, the Metropolitan Opera cancelled its plans for the global broadcast of John Adam’s opera amidst concern it would encourage anti-Semitic sentiment.

The International Committee for Artists’ Freedom has joined with other co-signers including National Opera Association, Article 19, The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, Free Expression Policy Project, freeDimensional, Freemuse and Pen American Center. The joint statement calls for the Metropolitan Opera to proceed with the scheduled broadcast, with the extensive list of supporters expected to grow even further in the coming days.

“Cultural institutions can play a crucial role in promoting understanding and peaceful dialogue in a world of conflict, but only if they stand up to pressure groups from all sides,” reads the collaborative statement. “If they don't, they are likely to become either irrelevant or a tool in the hands of competing political interests.”

In an earlier statement, Peter Gelb, General Manager of The Met, said that he had “received hundreds of emails over the past 10 days calling on him to cancel the transmission”. While he believes that the opera is not anti-Semitic, he said that he has responded according to the great public concern.

The opera was written in 1991 and is based on the 1985 hijacking of cruise-ship Achille Lauro. During the attack, Palestinian terrorists murdered Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jewish passenger. The opera has already received much criticism by both Jewish and Palestinian groups, with each side claiming that The Death of Klinghoffer was biased against it.

Discussion of the cancellation has continued on social media sites. High profile arts facilitators have shared the NCAC statement, including San Francisco Symphony Resident Conductor Donato Cabrera, New York Times classical music and dance reporter Michael Cooper, Opera Theatre of Montclair General Director Mia Riker-Norrie, and Performance Space 122.

“What the Metropolitan Opera may consider a compromise – to proceed with the production but severely limit its exposure – is ill-considered and counterproductive,” said NCAC Director of Programs Svetlana Mintcheva. “It is unlikely to appease the Opera’s critics, while it will discredit this revered cultural institution worldwide and invite future requests to suppress controversial works.”

Robert Hansen, National Opera Association Executive Director agrees, stating: “We believe that John Adams wrote the piece to invoke thoughtful discussion of the toll that conflict and polarisation takes on all parties involved. That role has been played by composers and librettists of opera throughout its history. While we recognise the potential for any performance to inspire emotional and visceral responses from an audience on either side of a conflict, to allow one faction's agenda to deny a voice to another undermines the function of the arts.”

Despite the increasing pressure from arts organisations, the Metropolitan Opera is yet to respond.