john adams


“My first opera made me famous, my second made me infamous,” wrote John Adams in his memoir, Hallelujah Junction, published last year. In 1987, his Nixon in China transformed the world of opera with the boldness and originality of its subject and staging (by Peter Sellars), the brilliance of its libretto (by Alice Goodman) and its expressive music, both exuberant and reflective, parodic and sincere. On first hearing it, I was exhilarated by the realisation that this art form was not doomed simply to recycle works of the past, but that it was still capable of producing a masterpiece. In 1991 the same team of Adams, Sellars and Goodman produced The Death of Klinghoffer, based on the 1985 hijacking by Palestinian terrorists of the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise liner, and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly, wheelchair-bound Jewish American on board. Well-received at its premiere in Brussels, this measured and melancholy work, modelled in part on Bach’s Passions, ran into a firestorm of criticism when it reached the United States. “I must have been out of my mind to think that an opera which opened with a ‘Chorus of Exiled Palestinians’ would be received in Brooklyn with placid equanimity,” says Adams now.

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