Letter to the editor: July 16, 2014

Learning from St. Louis staging of  ‘Klinghoffer’

The decision of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to stage John Adams’ opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” has revived the discussion that arose when Opera Theatre of St. Louis staged that work in 2011. The opera had been presented in the United States only for one evening 20 years previously before being shut down. The question arose then, as it still does now, whether the views of the Palestinians on the ship Achille Lauro who threw the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer overboard in the ocean were presented too favorably.  Many believed that the attention to the  positions of the Palestinians was excessive and knowing of the volatility of this issue over-sympathetic.  Others believed that the opera served to, as stated by Post-Dispatch music critic Sara Bryan Miller,  “Explore the roots of a conflict that has shaped our era, demonstrate the common humanity of all those involved, condemn violence and shine a light on the everyday heroism of ordinary people.”

Timothy O’Leary, General Director of Opera Theatre of St. Louis, realizing that strong feelings existed, wisely sought advice on how to prepare the St. Louis Community for this production.  He contacted Batya Abramson-Goldstein, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, who had suggestions on how to proceed.  The result was the establishment of a small Advisory Committee consisting of diverse religion, race and ethnicity which advised Opera Theatre on educational programs to be held before the presentation of the opera. The result was, that when the opera was produced, there was a broader understanding of the issues involved.

Shortly after the close of the season, Abramson-Goldstein attended a meeting of the Interfaith Partnership, where the question was: How do we recognize the 10th anniversary of 9/ll?  Remembering the very positive collaboration between Opera Theatre and the JCRC’s Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute of Human Relations, she suggested that she would contact Timothy O’Leary to see if there could be a commemoration in music.  Three months later on 9/ll the first 9/ll Concert was presented.  It was magnificent.  On stage were Christine Brewer and Peter Martin, members of the St. Louis Symphony and members of many faiths.  All were expressing, through music, their hope for peace, respect and understanding.  I will never forget the ending when the entire stage at the Sheldon Concert Hall was  filled with people of many faiths, races  and ethnic backgrounds joining in a rousing rendition of God Bless America. The audience, also made up of many faiths, races and ethnic background joined in a true celebration of diversity.

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Thus was born Arts and Faith St. Louis.  St. Louis is now a model in the nation of what you can accomplish in bridging differences through planning, discussion and education  through the partnership of Arts and Faith. This approach was recently cited in the New York Times.

This year will mark the fourth 9/11 Commemoration in Music. It will be held at at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Sheldon. It is free and open to the public.  Please join us.

Carolyn W. Losos, Chair of Arts and Faith St. Louis