FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK, 06/19/2014-The National Coalition Against Censorship has been joined by the National Opera Association, Article 19, The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, Free Expression Policy Project, freeDimensional, Freemuse, and PEN American Center in issuing a statement (available here) opposing the Metropolitan Opera's cancellation of live, high-definition screenings of John Adams' opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, to 65 countries. The statement urges the Metropolitan and its director, Peter Gelb, to reconsider and proceed with the scheduled simulcast. The list of organizations joining the statement is expected to grow in the next few days.
The Death of Klinghoffer, written in 1991 and based on real events, addresses political issues which remain as urgent today as they were at the time of its writing: terrorism and the conflict in the Middle East. The opera has been criticized many times by both Jewish and Palestinian organizations, with each side claiming that The Death of Klinghoffer was biased against it.
The organizations oppose the Metropolitan Opera's decision stating that: "Cultural institutions can play a crucial role in promoting understanding and peaceful dialogue in a world of conflict, but only if they stand up to pressure groups from all sides. If they don't, they are likely to become either irrelevant or a tool in the hands of competing political interests."
According to NCAC Director of Programs Svetlana Mintcheva, "what the Metropolitan Opera may consider a compromise – to proceed with the production but severely limit its exposure – is ill-considered and counterproductive. It is unlikely to appease the Opera's critics, while it will discredit this revered cultural institution worldwide and invite future requests to suppress controversial works."
The national and international arts and free speech organizations are urging the Metropolitan opera to proceed with the simulcast.
Robert Hansen, National Opera Association Executive Director states: "The National Opera Association agrees that the decision to cancel the simulcast of The Death of Klinghoffer is unfortunate. We believe that John Adams wrote the piece to invoke thoughtful discussion of the toll that conflict and polarization takes on all parties involved. That role has been played by composers and librettists of opera throughout its history. While we recognize the potential for any performance to inspire emotional and visceral responses from an audience on either side of a conflict, to allow one faction's agenda to deny a voice to another undermines the function of the arts."
Oliver Spencer, Article 19 Head of Communications and Campaigns explains that "Shining a light on the Israel-Palestine conflict will always court controversy and attract calls for censorship from all sides. Unfortunately, the Met, instead of standing firm as the first line in defense of artistic endeavor, has folded, self-censoring The Death of Klinghoffer and curtailing tens of thousands of people's enjoyment of it. Met Director, Peter Gelb should remember that without art that shocks, offends or disturbs, free speech is meaningless."
Ole Reitov, Freemuse Director reminds the Opera of the institutional cost of self-censorship: "Whether self-censoring is motivated by pressure from corporate, social or political interests, cultural institutions should never forget, that once they accept such pressure they lose artistic credibility and signal lack of integrity."
In joining the statement, Suzanne Nossel, Pen American Center Executive Director, says "This shortsighted decision deprives the public of the ideas and themes conveyed in art in order to protect the speculative interests of an hypothetical few. A great deal of censorship around the world is justified on the basis of protecting religions from insult; institutions like the Met should be very leery of going down that path."
Mary Ann DeVlieg, Director of Strategic Development at freeDimensional and former Secretary General of the International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts speaks to the value of controversial art: "Artists present us with inhabitual ways of looking at issues, in order to wake us out of our everyday torpor and make us think. The Met should be proud of presenting a work (widely acknowledged as not being anti-Semitic) that is timely, urgent and demands us to think of better solutions to issues that we are clearly, as a world, failing at."
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the National Coalition Against Censorship promotes freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression and opposes censorship in all its forms. Our diverse coalition of over 50 national organizations, representing the artistic, educational, religious, and labor communities, join together in the interest of protecting First Amendment rights. Learn more about current campaigns at https://ncac.org