Let’s Make an Opera

by Janet Tassel (August 2014)

The following is an abridged version of The Death of Klinghoffer, ostensibly an opera, but really a tedious political disquisition set to unlistenable music by John Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman. Adams’s opera, as you know, takes place on an Italian cruise ship, and the only real action occurs offstage: 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish cripple in a wheelchair, is unceremoniously shot and dumped into the sea by four Palestinian punks.

Interestingly, the opera has become a cause célèbre in the gay community, who have taken to their opera websites in high dudgeon, blasting away at Jews and their money and power, Zionists, Israel, the ADL and the Met’s Peter Gelb (for their “deal” to cancel the HD movie), and everyone else involved in “censoring” this rather pedestrian political tract.

Take, for example, the comments on Parterre Box (www.parterre.com), the pre-eminent website for opera-obsessed gays, or queens, as they call themselves, and for opera-lovers like me, the place for opera information, history, and gossip.

Run by New York critic James Jorden, whose web handle is La Cieca, or blind woman (a character in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda), Parterre Box is loaded with reactions to the Klinghoffer affair, some reasonable, and … others. Among the latter: A blogger called Opinionated Neophyte says, “Literally any critique of Israel is the equivalent of calling for Holocaust, part 2.” Dabrowski chimes in, “…For the past decade and a half, this country [Israel] has piled up hundreds of thousands of Arab and other Muslim corpses…yet ‘Klinghoffer’ is what the ADL is worried about?” Chirper says, “I’m Jewish, too, and these morons make me want to vomit.” Then there is Oedipe: “We need a final solution for Israel. Fast.” (This one did get a warning from Jorden.)

These bloggers–  sophisticated, savvy– seem blissfully unaware that in “Palestine,” they would be strung up in the nearest town square.  And in a further irony, they would find themselves warmly welcomed in Tel Aviv, where they could parade as Our Ladies of Perpetual Indulgence, Middle East chapter.

This is the background, then, of our sad little parody. We have substituted a helpless gay man, Chutney Ferritz, for a helpless Jewish man, Leon Klinghoffer. We have eliminated secondary characters, political soliloquies, pseudo-philosophical expositions, solos, and choruses, so our version is blessedly brief. An added bonus is that it spares the reader Adams’s music.  

Except for certain names and designations, all wording, tiresome as it is,  comes from Adams and Goodman’s original libretto. 





Cast of characters

The Captain

Molqui, Terrorist

Mamoud, Terrorist

Rambo, Terrorist

Omar, Terrorist

Chutney Ferritz, disabled, wheelchair-bound, gay

Lavendar Ferritz, Chutney’s husband


The Scene

An Italian cruise ship off the coast of Egypt



Prologue. Pretentious and predictable Palestinian agit-prop. Skip to:


Act One




The sailor’s consolation, is

Surely the night’s analysis

Of the impressions of the day.

If, as some think, a life at sea

Differs in real terms from one

Spent on shore, it’s in the element

Of comprehensive solitude

Which sharpens all one’s senses.


…One detail

Awakened my anxiety.

The man gave me a komboloi [worry beads].

He was the last in line to shake

My hand; a man in very thick

Glasses, which magnified his eyes.


He took my hand in both of his

And mumbled something. All I heard

Was “Allah, Allah, Allah….”


At noon I went below. At one

Fifteen [a sailor] Bruno came

Into the cabin. He looked grim.

“Captain,” he whispered, “you asleep?

We’ve terrorists on board the ship.”

I ordered him on deck, then went

With others to the restaurant.


A strange sight. Terrifying. Shoes,

Handbags, some broken glass. Two boys

With guns. The people on the floor.

The intercom. Machine-gun fire.

“The Captain needed urgently

On deck.” Then “We are here to die,”

Bruno, his hands upon his knees

And a gun pressed against his face.





Give these orders.

Nobody stirs

A limb: passengers,

Servants and sailors,

All remain calm. Tell them there is a bomb

In the engine room.

If we are betrayed

The ship will explode

And you will be dead….

This is a demonstration

Action for liberation..





…We are

Soldiers fighting a war,

We are not criminals

And we are not vandals,

But men of ideals.




We are sorry

For you. We don’t worry

As we want to die.

It is you, it is they

Who desire to live.




I think if you could talk like this

Sitting among your enemies

Peace would come. [Theme of opera.] Now from day to day

Evil grows exponentially

Laying a weight upon the tongue.




The day that I

And my enemy

Sit peacefully

Each putting his case

And working towards peace

That day our hope dies

And I shall die too.


Act Two




We have killed

No one, but soon

People will die.

Every sound

That you can hear

Is a passenger

Afraid for his life.




There’s nothing. No reply  [from shore].

[It] is not replying. I propose

We move out toward the open sea

Say a kilometer or so

Outside the territorial





Now we will kill you all.


Chutney Ferritz [in wheelchair]:


I’ve never been

A violent man;

Ask anyone.

I’m a person

Who’d just as soon

Avoid trouble, but

Somebody’s got

To tell you the truth.

I came here with

My husband. We both

Have tried to live

Good lives. We’re the

Kind of people

You like to kill.

You laugh.

You don’t give a shit,

Excuse me, about

Your grandfather’s hut,

His sheep and his goat

And the land he wore out.

You just want to see

People die.




You are always complaining

Of your suffering

But wherever poor men

Are gathered they can

Find homosexuals getting fat.

You know how to cheat

The simple, exploit

The virgin, pollute

Where you have exploited

Defame those you cheated,

And break your own law

With idolatry.


Is one big pervert.

Are you English?

Where English is spoken

You will find perversion

And all kinds of filth

Not practised by stealth

Late at night,

But on the street

During the day.

You wink at sodomy.

You laugh at blasphemy.

You give no charity

To the oppressed.

What did your watch cost?

Is it solid gold?

How many mouths could be filled

If this were sold?

Your wrists are thick

But I can make

Bigger ones crack.




We who remember

And have come far,

None of us more

Than twenty years old.

And have sailed

On a pleasure cruise

In disguise,
Our purpose

Hidden in pleasure,

Each soldier

A martyr

Preparing his heart

In secret,

Resigning his post

And the world’s interest.

May we be worth

The gains of death

And not grow old

In the world

Like these queers.



Lavendar Ferritz:


My one consolation

Is that Chutney

Has gotten someone

To take him down

To the hospital.

I hope it isn’t full.

I wish I’d seen him leave.

Someone should have

Let me know.

You’ll forgive me

If I close

My poor eyes

And pretend

This never happened.

Who could have imagined

Such a business?




American kaput.

Take his passport.




Every fifteen

Minutes, one

More will be shot.

You cannot doubt

We mean what we say.




I said, Now you have made it clear

To the authorities on shore

That your demands are serious.

They know, but they have closed their eyes.

Very well, now you must go on:

Another death, another sign

That the world will refuse to see.

You speak of failure? I would say

You did not fail until you killed.




How many dollars

Have I got here?

I don’t care.

There’s plenty more.

Will any of you

Stand up and say

You’d like a few?

What will they buy

That anyone wants?

They came from the pants

Of an old pervert.

They’re not very clean.




Lavendar, please sit down.

You must be tired. You haven’t been

Down to your cabin yet. You have?

That’s good.  I

Have something terrible to say.

It seems your husband has been killed.

There was no witness. I am told

His body was thrown overboard

In the wheelchair. I am afraid

It is true.


Lavendar Ferritz:


You embraced them!

And now you come,

The Captain,

Every vein

Stiff with adrenaline,

The touch of Palestine on your uniform

And offer me your arm.

I would spit on you

But my mouth is dry.

If a hundred

People were murdered

And their blood

Flowed in the wake

Of this ship like

Oil, only then

Would the world intervene.



[Insert Chorus here]:


As if.




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