“Burn the sets,” says one as hundreds gather in NY to prevent the staging of John Adams’ opera.

Several hundred demonstrators have begun to gather outside the Metropolitan Opera in New York to protest the production of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer due to open next month. The opera depicts the 1985 hijacking of the cruise-ship Achille Lauro and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jewish passenger by Palestinian terrorists.

An angry crowd of mostly Jewish people turned up to confront patrons attending the opening night of The Marriage of Figaro – the first opera in the Met’s recently rescued season, following the resolution of the company’s protracted wage negotiations.

Protestors listened to a series of speakers condemning the opera and calling for the Met to pull the production, which is now in rehearsal. Several held up placards, many bearing inflammatory slogans such as “Metropolitan Nazi Opera,” and “Gelb Are You Taking Terror $$$?” Others called for the opera house to be penalised: “Stop the Hate — Defund Met Opera”.

Rabbi Avi Weiss called for the sets to be burned

Meanwhile, in a park opposite Lincoln Center Rabbi Avi Weiss led prayers for Mr. Klinghoffer on Monday morning. Like many of those protesting the staging Weiss has never attended a production. “I’ve not seen it,” he admitted , “but I’ve heard enough about it and I don’t want to see it, frankly.” Speaking to the crowd later Weiss said: “We are going to be back here – everyone here and many, many more – every night of the Klinghoffer opera until the set is burned to the ground”.

Meanwhile the British director Tom Morris has defended the work, a co-production with English National Opera in London where the production drew favourable reviews and attracted very little controversy when it was seen last year. The Death of Klinghoffer, says Morris, is an intellectual exercise. “It’s saying, ‘Let’s spend some time wrestling with the very difficult questions that arise from this very difficult conflict’”.

Peter Gelb has also stood up for Adams’ work in an interview with Haaretz in New York saying that  Adams is “indisputably the greatest composer of American opera writing today… What inspires his genius – and he is a genius – are real historical events.”

The Met cancelled its plans for a live, global broadcast of the opera back in June amidst concerns that it could encourage anti-Semitism. The transmission was to have gone out to around 2,000 theatres in over 60 countries. In a statement at the time the company’s General Manager Peter Gelb justified the cancellation saying that he didn’t believe the 1991 opera was anti-Semitic but was aware of “great concern, which I think is justified,” about “anything that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as pro-terrorist… I have to be sensitive to that”.

Meanwhile, John Adams issued a statement taking exception to the Met’s decision. “My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder”, he said. “It acknowledges the dreams and the grievances of not only the Israeli but also the Palestinian people, and in no form condones or promotes violence, terrorism or anti-Semitism.” Opera critics have generally sided with Adams with Anthony Tommasini from The New York Times tweeting, “Klinghoffer is a tough, raw, honest opera. Some think differently. Fine. Shouldn’t Met HD audiences get to decide?”