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John Adams The Death of Klinghoffer

Director Tom Morris
ENO at The Coliseum
, London February 25, 2012

The most satisfying of ENO's recent new productions, this belated London production of a work dating from 1990 (based on the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985) operates at various levels.

ENO's programme book is exemplary; a collector's piece, with excerpts from the liner captain's diary together with contemporary responses in Ronald Regan's and evocative photos.

Top for us was the orchestral score, always subtly changing and beautiful, well presented by the ENO Orchestra under the secure, sensitive guidance of Baldur Brönnimann. This opera is a landmark in the music of this always interesting and still developing composer with strong roots in minimalism.*

Some episodes are choreographed by Arthur Pita, with a dancer cast as the non-singing young hijacker who will kill Klinghoffer in his wheel-chair [L]. The actual murder of Leon Klinghoffer is powerfully realised in this ENO staging with "a mesmerising blend of dance and time conflation" [Classical Source - where you can see the entire ENO cast list].

The stage pictures (sets and videos Tom Pye & Finn Ross) were judicious and evocative, far better than those of the recent Eugene Onegin there. The libretto hilights the poetic centre of the whole, and it creaks sometimes. The cast has been comprehensively and appropriately praised elsewhere; Google will bring up numerous reviews, which are also collected at TheOperaCritic, most of them justifiably positive.

Catch The Death of Klinghoffer during its short run.

There was a Channel 4 film of the opera conducted by the composer [Decca: 0741899], which we remember well and would hope might now be screened again.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Adams's score is a thing of beauty (and is rendered here with absolute clarity by Baldur Bronnimann), its language a lyrical minimalism that relaxes the nullifying repetitions of Philip Glass [New Statesman]

John Adams

Short Ride in a Fast Machine

San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas

Avie AVSFS 0053 [TT 47 mins; recorded live 2010/2011]

Received a couple of days after seeing The Death of Klinghoffer again, these two works reflect Adams' work in the mid-'80s, then still very much tied to his minimalistic roots, but with each piece sufficiently individual to make a strong programme easy to take straight through (albeit, that its TT is only 47 mins, for those purchasers who count...).

The three movements of v are well contrasted, the central one The Amfortas Wound "bleak and moody - - about sickness and infirmity" [JM Keller].

Adams' Short Ride zips aong to make a perfect 5 mins encore.

Spendid performances and recording, which will not surprise addicts of M T-T's composer
with the San Francisco Symphony; those are shown regularly on Sky TV.

Peter Grahame Woolf