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John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer

3 hours
First broadcast:
Saturday 12 May 2012

John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer
Presented by Andrew McGregor

John Adams and his librettist Alice Goodman always knew that using the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro as the basis for an opera would be a hot potato. But quite how hot, even he couldn't have predicted. The controversy surrounding 'The Death of Klinghoffer', with its grisly plot including the murder of an elderly, disabled American Jew, has never abated since its 1991 premiere in Brussels. It has taken over twenty years for it to be staged in this country and this production, directed by Tom Morris and recorded at English National Opera, is the first at a British opera house. Andrew McGregor explores the opera's themes and controversy with Penny Woolcock, who herself directed a film of 'Klinghoffer'. And in the interval, former BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Franks throws light on the political background of the region in the mid-80s.

Klinghoffer.....Alan Opie (Baritone)
Captain.....Christopher Magiera (Baritone)
Marilyn Klinghoffer.....Michaela Martens (Mezzo-Soprano)
Molqui.....Edwin Vega (Tenor)
Rambo.....Sidney Outlaw (Baritone)
Mamoud.....Richard Burkhard (Baritone)
Austrian Woman.....Kathryn Harries (Soprano)
First Officer.....James Cleverton (Baritone)
Swiss Grandmother.....Lucy Shaufer (Mezzo-Soprano)
Palestinian Woman.....Clare Presland (Soprano)
British Dancing Girl.....Kate Miller-Heidke (Singer)
Chorus and Orchestra of English National Opera
Conductor.....Baldur Bronnimann.

  • Synopsis

    The action takes place on board the Italian cruise liner, Achille Lauro,
    in October 1985, on a sixteen-day circuit of the eastern Mediterranean.

    Chorus of Exiled Palestinians
    Chorus of Exiled Jews

  • ACT I

    Scene 1
    The cruise liner Achille Lauro has been hijacked just a few hours out of the port of Alexandria, where a large group of passengers disembarked for a tour of the pyramids. Those remaining on the ship are the old, the very young, those desiring a rest amid the comforts of a floating hotel, the crew and service staff.

    The hijackers are an unknown number of young Palestinian men. Not until
    much later is it discovered that there are only four of them. Their purpose is not clear. Their actions, however, are definite. A waiter has been shot in the leg.

    The First Officer has a gun against his head. Passengers, who had gathered in the dining room for lunch, are transferred to the Tapestry Room, which is more easily guarded. Americans, Britons, and Jews are identified. The Captain
    urges calm.

    Ocean Chorus

    Scene 2
    The Captain is on the bridge, guarded by the teenager Mamoud. Mamoud tunes in to various local radio stations. He sings of the ight, of his love for the music, and of his memories. The Captain confides his thoughts on the nature of travel. (One passenger, an Austrian woman, has locked herself into her stateroom, where she will remain for the next two days.) Just before dawn a bird lands on the ship’s railing, almost at the Captain’s elbow. He starts. Mamoud rebukes him.

    Night Chorus

  • ACT II

    Scene 1
    It is 11.30 a.m. The Achille Lauro awaits permission to enter the Syrian port of Tartus. The air corridor is deserted, as is the sea-road. Americans, Britons, and Jews have been moved on deck to the Winter Garden, which is the only place a helicopter might hope to land. Leon Klinghoffer’s wheelchair cannot be lifted onto the platform, so he sits a little below the others. There is no shade.

    Differences between the Palestinians are becoming clearer, as is their
    isolation from their commanders. Molqi, the leader on board the ship, has not revealed his orders. Everyone is on edge. One Palestinian torments some of the passengers. Another, Omar, invokes the holy death he longs for. Mamoud believes that their radio contacts have betrayed them. Omar and Molqi fight.
    Molqi wheels Klinghoffer away.

    Scene 2
    Klinghoffer is shot. Mrs Klinghoffer, sitting on deck in wretched discomfort, has no idea her husband is dead. The Palestinians announce the murder to the Captain. He must inform the authorities on shore and let them know that other hostages will die. He considers it his duty as captain to sacrifice his life for the others. Molqi decides that no further killing is Necessary. During the ensuing radio negotiation the Captain assures Abu Abbas, among others, that no one has died. It is thus agreed that the ship will proceed to Cairo, where
    the Palestinians will be allowed to disembark. As the ship begins to move, Klinghoffer’s body is thrown over the side. It will drift ashore in Syria.

    Day Chorus

    Scene 3
    The Achille Lauro has docked in Cairo and the Palestinians have disembarked.

    The Captain calls Mrs Klinghoffer to his cabin and breaks the news of her
    husband’s death. She will not be consoled.



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