The Met's tagline for The Death of Klinghoffer’s run is "See it, then decide", and Tom Morris's new production is strong enough to merit a recommendation for those still on the fence. There is no weak link in the cast; the complexities of the situation were sung skillfully and with sensitivity. Alice Goodman’s libretto carried us shrewdly through the drama, told through flashbacks and accounts of the passengers, as John Adams’ music churned beneath. In this production, the scenes unfolding onstage were accompanied by explanatory texts projected onto the backdrops: cold hard facts offered up next to the excitable recollections of the passengers (while standing at a podium), such as the woman who hid in her room for 48 hours eating chocolate from her gift basket and the woman from a British dance team.

Alan Opie and Michaela Martens (Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer) © Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera
Alan Opie and Michaela Martens (Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer)
© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera

These personal details and preoccupations overlapped and merged with the action on the ship and the separate, timeless texts sung by the two choruses. The Chorus of Exiled Palestinians and the Chorus of Exiled Jews, initially in the two-part Prologue and then continuing throughout the opera, provided the voice for the bigger issues looming behind the opera’s synecdotal emphasis on “small things”. The strongest segment was Scene 2 of Act I, in which one of the hijackers, Aubrey Allicock’s Mamoud, confided in the Captain, sung by Paulo Szot. The glimpse into Mamoud’s own internal struggle then transitioned seamlessly back to the Chorus of Exiled Palestinians, waving green flags as graffiti appears and flickers across the backdrop. During the Prologue, as the two choruses summarized their long-drawn-out plights, numbers from 1948 to 2014 flipped past against a barren background.

© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera
© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera

These backdrops shifted and shimmered according to the tone of the story and its retellings. Tom Pye’s set design, joined by Finn Ross’ video projections, fitted well with the time-hopping narrative. During the scenes on the ship, the background panels gleamed with rhythmic waves and clouds. During the final duet between the Captain and Michaela Martens’ beautifully sung Marilyn Klinghoffer, a sun glowed against solid black. Laura Hopkins’ costumes were an apt collection of neon 1980s garb, contrasting with the choruses draped in drab shapeless fabric. All of the visual elements came together very well, including Arthur Pita’s choreography, which felt excessive except when it came to dancer Jesse Kovarsky’s Omar, the youngest hijacker whose inner struggle was sung beautifully by Maya Lahyani. As the unnamed, shadowy “Palestinian woman”, she trailed behind Omar as he flailed about, literally and figuratively, before shooting Klinghoffer.

Maya Lahyani (Palestinian Woman) © Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera
Maya Lahyani (Palestinian Woman)
© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera

Ms Lahyani’s was not the only gorgeously-sung role; all performers did an exceptional job of bringing the words to life. Paulo Szot and Michaela Martens were both dazzling, particularly during the final duet, and Alan Opie’s Klinghoffer was poignantly-sung, especially as he lamented that “This was supposed to be our time together”. David Robertson carried the Met Orchestra through one of the most brilliantly-conducted performances I’ve witnessed, though the music itself was not always impressive. At times the score felt like a watered-down Nixon in China, while at others it was popping along in an unconventional exchange between synthesizers and brass, or volleying skips and gusts of dissonance across generic minimalist melodies. Usually, the instruments did what you expected them to do: the brass brayed, the flutes twinkled, the strings arpeggiated wildly and were punctuated by semi-automatic gunshots from the stage. There were shrill pensive tones and cinematic crescendos and plenty of vague, meandering vocal lines.

Even if this music is forgettable, it is well-matched for the action. And the music is the opera’s uniting characteristic: bustling along from night to day, land to sea, past to present, exiled chorus to exiled chorus.

As I arrived for the second night of the run, I spotted only one protester out on Lincoln Center Plaza, silently wielding a sign declaring that the Met “glorifies terrorism”. It was somewhat of a relief to see that the hordes of protesters had not returned after their rendezvous at the première. Nobody interrupted the opera with boos or profanities, and nobody got arrested for disturbing the peace (as happened during the first night). Yet I still had to have my bag checked before entering the theater, which hasn’t been a requirement for any other operas I’ve seen at the Met. And I was still greeted with the “message from Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer” in the center of my program notes, denouncing the opera and stating that terrorism “cannot be rationalized” and “cannot be understood”. The Death of Klinghoffer, which recounts the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by members of the Palestine Liberation Front and the subsequent murder of Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer’s father Leon, in no way rationalizes the actions of these men. Nor does it “glorify” terrorism – it simply portrays it. And it presents the Palestinian characters as people – people capable of hideous, violent acts, but human beings nonetheless, with back stories and emotions and troubling childhood memories. But this is hardly anti-semitism. After all, even Voldemort had a back story.