Genre, Narration, and Meditation in 'The Death of Klinghoffer'
Biringer, Claire Elise
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The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), which has been equally criticized as “trivial trash” and a “sad solace of truth,” is an intricate work that chronicles the events of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship. However, because of untraditional dramaturgical choices made by the co-creators John Adams, Alice Goodman, and Peter Sellars, the story has been largely interpreted out of historical context and therefore heavily denounced since its premiere. This study is an attempt to recontextualize Klinghoffer, and to consider it within the historical and stylistic traditions with which it engages. Instead of the traditional operatic narrative, this opera employs multiple layers of narration to convey the plot, where aria-driven mimetic drama is juxtaposed with allegorical choruses and retrospective accounts of the hijacking. This model nods more to the oratorio and Passion tradition than to a traditional opera, which elevates the events to a higher place, one in which meditation, reflection, and remembrance can flourish. Klinghoffer’s genre-blurring quality is achieved and permissible through its unique position within the postmodern era, in which self-reference and historical acknowledgment are key. The resulting disjunction, evident in the narrative layers, genre juxtaposition, and musical language, is dramatically appropriate to the work, as it reflects the overall chaos and confusion of both the events and the turbulent history to which it belongs. Through the musical and generic historical references, and in the relevance and urgency of the subject matter, Klinghoffer interacts with the past while calling for action and meditation in the present, pointing to an uncertain and ever-changeable future.
- Music