Opera Review: Adams Resurrects 'Klinghoffer' with Juilliard

John Adams conducted the Juilliard Orchestra this weekend in a concert performance of his opera The Death of Klinghoffer. The opera finishes off a week of California music by the Juilliard school, and gave audiences a chance to see this wonderful opera performed under the baton of the composer.

Harry Rolnick, of Concerto.net, enjoyed the minimalist performance.

Not enough can be said for the Juilliard Orchestra. No massive forces are needed, but the subtle string playing, the occasional loud brass, and the single percussionist (Joan Yeh) who managed many instruments made not a mistake. It would be fatuous to doubt the interpretation, for this was Mr. Adams himself at the helm.

Whatever could be considered an aria was in the second act, and the cast of professionals and students outdid themselves. Ms. Goodman has created an androgynous terrorist played by mezzo Renée Lenore Tatum, poignantly pouring forth his heartbreak “If I do not walk in Paradise.” And while Klinghoffer hardly has the humor of Nixon, the down-to-earth ruminations of “British dancer” Jennifer Zetlan are like Hamlet’s gravedigger.

The Klinghoffers themselves are, for New Yorkers, the neighbors next door. But Nicholas Pallesen in his two arias reached out with the simplest pleas in a beautiful rich baritone. His wife, played by Jennifer Hines, was wretchedly moving as she shows her own hatred of the heroic captain for “embracing” the terrorists, for having “the oil of Palestine” on his sleeves.

Anthony Tommasini, of the New York Times, also felt the performance reached new heights for the opera, Adam and the performers from Juilliard.

It must have been inspiring for the orchestra players to perform this multilayered, complex and elusive score under Mr. Adams’s direction. And seeing these real-life, hard-bitten characters portrayed by singers so full of talent and promise brought a humanizing poignancy to the drama: the steadfast baritone Brian Leerhuber as the ship’s beleaguered captain, who struggles to end the siege peacefully; the youthful baritone Nicholas Pallesen as the paralyzed Klinghoffer, who courageously denounces the terrorists from his wheelchair; the earthy mezzo-soprano Jennifer Hines as Marilyn Klinghoffer, afflicted with cancer yet tirelessly devoted to caring for her husband; and especially the charismatic baritone Kelly Markgraf as Mamoud, the most conflicted of the Palestinian hijackers though a young man steeped in ancient hatreds.

What came through here, for me, was that this is one of Mr. Adams’s most intricate, entrancing and impressive scores. With these sympathetic young performers Mr. Adams was able to present it the way he envisioned it, or so it seemed as he took bows during the long ovation.

Both reviewers also spoke highly of the libretto by Alice Goodman matching the complexity and layers of Adams music to create an opera that doesn't just sit nicely on the sidelines of the issues, but makes us think.

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