“The Death of Klinghoffer” and the beauty of fiction

John Adams, composer of the controversial opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”

John Adams, composer of the controversial opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”

Been in a bit of a valley lately, and at such moments it helps to see who might be worse off. Ah, there we have it – The Metropolitan Opera. Its offices have been vandalized. It’s in tough contract negotiations with 15 unions. And it recently cancelled the fall simulcast of John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” into movie theaters worldwide after some Jewish groups protested the work might spark anti-Semitism.

“Klinghoffer” is based on the 1985 hijacking of the ship the Achille Lauro by the Palestinian Liberation Front. The hijackers killed Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish-American passenger, then forced crew members to dump his body overboard. Even writing this years later brings back all the horror of it.

Adams’ opera, with a libretto by Alice Goodman, gives voice to both Klinghoffer and the terrorists. Some think the work anti-Semitic; others that it gives anti-Semitism an excuse. It has been controversial since it debuted in Brussels in 1991 and has caused a great deal of pain to Klinghoffer’s two surviving daughters.

My own view is that art should have a chance. Given the controversy, however, it might’ve been wise to present it with an interfaith panel discussion, as has been done in St. Louis and other places.

But I feel, too, for the Klinghoffer daughters. Historical fiction is not real-life. The Vincent van Gogh of Irving Stone’s “Lust for Life” and the Vincente Minnelli movie is not the real Vincent but a variation or two on the original. Such is the price of fame. But neither Klinghoffer nor his family sought their fame. It was forced on them.

That’s why I love fiction so much. I can’t tell you how many people insist on asking me whom the characters in my novel “Water Music” are based on. Some are quite crestfallen when they realize this is not a work of nonfiction.

No, people, it’s fiction, a work of my imagination – blissfully so.