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This is not just about opera

from the English National Opera production of The Death of Klinghoffer

from the English National Opera production of The Death of Klinghoffer

The Metropolitan Opera’s cancellation of the announced HD broadcast of The Death of Klinghoffer is galling for a number of reasons. The Met’s decision to stage the opera (albeit with a note in the program by Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters, who have condemned the work as anti-Semitic)  but not broadcast it will please nobody. It is also alarming to see Met General Manager Peter Gelb cave so easily, especially in light of his reaction to those who, because of Russia’s anti-gay antics, protested the Met’s opening night performance last year of Eugene Onegin, featuring Putin supporters Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev:

We stand against the significant human rights abuses that take place every day in many countries. But as an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world.

He was right then and therefore he’s wrong now. But if you are still with me and not wondering when this blog turned into Parterre Box, the cynical and specious reasoning Gelb gives for the cancellation of the broadcast is exactly what libraries hear every damn time somebody challenges a book:

I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic,” said the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb. “But I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.

Censors are almost never worried about the dangers poised by a book to themselves, or to their own invariably brilliant children. They worry about other children. Even leaving aside Gelb’s attempt to grease himself out of the argument and blame it on the Jews, the idea that somehow unthinking anti-Semitic hordes were going to attend an HD broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera across Europe and then–well, and then what, exactly? Censors are also never very clear about just what they expect to happen to people upon reading or viewing an objectionable work. But apparently Americans with enough cash to attend a live Met performance of this opera will be fine; it’s those Other People we have to worry about. It’s ALWAYS the Other People they’re worried about.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. I think it would be wonderful if the Horn Book devoted some space in the magazine to a nuanced discussion of these questions– inviting writers to explore questions of representation, critique, the use of problematic texts in the classroom, consideration of audience, the question of stereotypes and harm (including research into the relationship between stereotypes, representation and school achievement gaps), awards and classics…etc. So often this discussion is framed within the simple dichotomy of censorships vs. free speech, and I’d love to see space given to all of the complex issues that don’t fit within that easy framework.

  2. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I don’t think that framework is as easy as you think–but why don’t you write something?

  3. That’s very sad about Gelb’s buckling under. I admire this opera greatly, as I do all of Adams’ work, and managed see the superlative production of NIXON IN CHINA (and it’s rapturous aria ‘Ain’t It Prophetic?’) on two occasions–once during the original and then again when it was brought back. That is really bizarre about the daughters. Volpe had some issues too, but he stuck to his guns. Geez, it is always about the money with Gelb. I will see it live of course, living right next to Manhattan, but I mourn for all those who can’t. For years we have own the DVD of the very fine Penny Woolcock film of the opera, as well as the excellent Kurt Nagano audio set. But this Met production has been cause for celebration.

  4. Just to clarify– I don’t at all agree with the Met’s decision either. I was thinking about the extrapolation to children’s books in light of other recent conversations here about stereotypes and representation, and the tendency for those discussions to be framed by many as simply coming from–or leading to– this same censorial impulse. I’m still not sure I’m the right person to do it, but would love to look more closely at that tension. And thanks.

  5. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I agree, Sarah. We should be able to talk about, say, racism or sexism in children’s books (or anti-Semitism in opera for that matter) without it instantly turning into a debate about removing a book from a library (or an opera from the repertoire). Both sides seem to jump there pretty quickly!

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