Friday, September 26, 2014


This film betrays the opera with the benediction of the composer


As for the original opera and the music I would advise you to check my review of the original production as performed in Lyon, the Death of Klinghoffer’s set of two CDs with libretto, posted on most Amazon sites. The ASIN of the product there is B000005J1B. I am going to insist here on what makes this film different, original.

This is not a filmed opera production but a film shot and constructed on the basis of the opera by John Adams. You will be disappointed because the music is not kept entirely the way it should be. Some passages are cut off, like the Ocean and the Desert Choruses, and the Hagar Chorus has been replaced by some TV presentation that is not in the line of the original opera since it introduces Isaac in a chorus – which is not a chorus anymore – that was exclusively centered on Hagar and Ishmael. This does not balance the tale. This betrays the tale as we are going to see. The worst adaptation/distortion is the use of plain spoken words and sentences instead of the sung equivalent. These sections that are no longer sung are just not in the line of the opera which was sung from beginning to end, even if with some sections sounding more like a dirge with a recitative feel, but it was entirely sung.

The second remark is that to add pictures to the music, pictures that are not the direct stage work of the singers, makes the film very difficult to understand. A film of that type is visual first of all and since we are visual dominant we see these added images first and they dominate the rest, the music, the words and the real setting. The film is thus overloaded with news reels about the Shoah, the deportation and extermination of Jews by the Nazis; with visions of the Jews arriving in Palestine and hunting the Palestinians out and banishing them brutally out of their villages and houses that are taken over buy the thousands of arriving Jews in their mass exodus to the Israel of the old times, and in such scene of appropriation of what is not theirs, of homes that belonged to other families the sex sequence in the bed of those expelled Palestinians of a survivor of a Nazi death camp identified by his number on his arm and the whipping scars on his back is a real mental crime against the Palestinians and against the Jews, a desecration of this bed and house. The Jews were captured by the Nazis, extracted from their homes that were looted by any one who wanted to and by the SS and Gestapo for the enrichment of the Reich, and then they were deported to camps where they were supposed to die and it is clearly shown to us in the film. And here we have the vision of exactly the same thing done to the Palestinians by people who had suffered the Nazi persecutions. It looks like a compensation for the evil they had suffered. This is strongly accusatory towards these Zionist Jews. I was stolen my purse yesterday by a punk. So today I steal the purse of the first person I meet in the street. An eye for an eye, but on a third party collateral victim.

The text contains clear mentions of such facts, particularly in the prologue, but the images multiply the impact of ,these words, and what’s more these images do not intervene only then but do intervene in other places in the opera, hence repetitively. The director of the film knows perfectly well that repetition is subliminal.

In the same way the very graphic images of the expulsion of the Palestinians, of the colonial control and exploitation of the Palestinians, of the horrific life and also death of the Palestinians in the various refugee camps that we can imagine are Sabra and Shatila give the other side of this arrival of the Jews in Palestine based on the Balfour declaration that suggested the parting of Palestine to give a section of this region to the Jews to create a state of their own,. The worst part of this image accompaniment of the text is that the images are often in contradiction with the text. When the Jewish lot is evoked by the text it is illustrated with graphic images of the Palestinian fate, and vice versa. This gives to the Jewish suffering before, in Europe, in the hands of the Europeans, a weight and value that is a lot more important than what it was in the original opera. At the same time the similar providing of graphic images of the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Jews in Palestine emphasizes this suffering that had been kept under control in the libretto. It then becomes completely wild and, particularly at the end the imagined meeting of the “terrorists” in Gaza in 2003, one in a chauffeured car and two reduced to practically disjointed and ineffective retarded people, does not show much except that their future can be good or bad but always locked up in a surrounding misery that makes this fate totally surreal. In other words we are far from the original opera.

But I want to insist on the cutting of the two choruses: the Ocean Chorus and the Desert Chorus. The first one was going back to the very genesis of humanity in the primeval water expanse in total darkness before creation, the creation  of Adam and Eve, of one source for humanity that is then constantly shown in the opera as divided in two as a decision of God himself who seems to have wanted a dual or bipolar world that is easier to control. Originally the whole humanity was one and that was the vision of the opera modulated later by the Hagar Chorus into two and yet centered only on one: Hagar and the Arabs. Yet thanks to the Hagar Chorus and its being replaced by a news report or news commentary on some TV set on the ship in front of the passengers and the hijackers explaining the two sons and the fate of Hagar and her son banished as soon as Abraham’s wife was able to bear a child in her old age, the whole shebang is purely flown into smoke. They even go as far as recalling the fact that the slave Hagar was given to Abraham by his wife because she could not bear children. And the two sons are only presented as the founders of two religions. The original opera only insists on Hagar, on God’s project concerning her son, to create another religion, and the cruel decision of Abraham banishing her and her child, just like the arriving Jews banished the Palestinians from Palestine. In the film the Hagar distorted tale is there to call for love between the two communities in the name of the fact they are cousins. The meaning of the Hagar Chorus has thus been changed completely and that is a shame.

The absence of the Desert Chorus is also regrettable. It explained how the Palestinians lived in the desert, from the desert, entirely formatted and constructed by, for and from the desert with an enormous contrast then with the Day Chorus when the country is showed as cultivated from the top of the mountain to the bank of the river and how a veiled woman has been pushed underground and is going to be drowned into cement and other debris. The veiled woman is the Palestinians and the presently cultivated wasteland of old is Israel. The original opera is showing how Israel has buried the Palestinians under their rich agriculture. We have lost that, that vision of a rich country built and constructed on the banished and hidden previous occupying people that haunts the land. The film preferred graphic images of the 2003 present which has nothing to do with the original opera and is totally anachronistic and – that is the worst part – it changes the ideological and political meaning of the opera.

We could multiply examples like the opening scene with Mrs. Klinghoffer confronted to the four arrested hijackers and spitting in the face of one of them is vain, narrow-minded and it shows the extreme hatred that Jewish woman can nourish in her heart, if she has a heart. This opening scene is going to be amplified by the closing scene when she is officially announced the death of her husband by the captain and her first reaction is a destructive rage nearly including the captain in itself. Her pain is thus translated into hatred and violence against objects and people who have nothing to do with her own fate in spite of her accusation that the Captain had been on the side of the hijackers, which was not the case as we have seen all along. They were hostages just as much as anyone else. Then she cools down a little bit and she comes to that strange concluding image that she is pregnant with her dead husband who will not be redeemed by God as long as she is alive. In other words she takes her husband hostage for the rest of her life. Instead of having the Jewish understanding that the dead husband cannot be redeemed by God as long as he is not reunited with his wife to whom he is eternally committed, we have a mean woman getting even with fate by taking her husband hostage against God’s redemption. How much does she hate him at this moment!

To remain on these two, before dying Mr. Klinghoffer is able to meet his wife, or his wife is authorized to rejoin her husband for the second part of his soliloquy during which she has nothing to say since originally she did not join him then. What is for him in the original opera a soothing recollection of the past becomes then by being addressed to the wife present in the film a sort of solace for the wife and no longer for the husband. He is trying to make it easier for her to survive instead of making it easier for himself to die.

Such transformation makes the film very messy and even fuzzy on the ideological meaning. It is in 2003 literally embedded in the War on Terror raging at the time and John Adams is conducting, which means he accepted such a drift from the original and a lot more cautious and discreet opera, which made it a lot more humane.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?