In October 1985, the Italian cruise ship Achille Laura was hijacked by four members of the Palestine Liberation Front demanding the release of 50 prisoners held by the Israelis. There was only one fatality – Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jewish American celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife of over 30 years, who was deliberately shot and thrown overboard along with his wheelchair.
John Adams’ 1991 opera (with a somewhat elusive libretto by Alice Goodman) has had a controversial history, having been accused of being overly sympathetic to the terrorists. But although the melodic prologue of Palestinian and Israeli exiles (sung against mesmeric video projections of a troubled landscape over the decades) sketches in some of the background of their on-going conflict – and the hijackers (including Richard Burkhard’s Mamoud and Sidney Outlaw’s Rambo) are given voice – ultimately Klinghoffer’s cold-blooded murder comes across as an act of pure violence.
With clear, powerful performances from Alan Opie as the ill-fated Klinghoffer, Michaela Martens as his spouse and Christopher Magiera as the courageous Captain, War Horse co-director Tom Morrison’s production succeeds in being both reflective and dramatic – and ensures that you don’t need to be an opera buff to enjoy Adam’s often meditative score.
English National Opera at the London Coliseum St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES
Tube: Charing Cross
Until 9th March
– Louise Kingsley
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith