BBC orchestra insists on performing controversial opera

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The Independent Culture

The BBC is pressing ahead with the première of an opera on the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinians even though the work has been called anti-Semitic and sympathetic to terrorists.

The live Radio 3 broadcast of John Adams' opera The Death of Klinghoffer will take place from the Barbican, London, on 18 January. Performances were cancelled in America before Christmas. The Boston Symphony Orchestra refused to go ahead with concerts of choruses from the work in November, citing "sensitivities" caused by the 11 September terrorist attacks.

Richard Taruskin, an American musicologist, condemned the work in The New York Times. He accused Adams of romanticising terrorists and, by implication, supporting terrorism by the al-Qa'ida organisation blamed for 11 September.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra has made the British première of the work the opening highlight of a weekend of music dedicated to the American composer.

Paul Hughes, the orchestra's general manager, said: "I won't pretend that we didn't have a conversation about whether to go ahead. But everybody thought we should for all the reasons we wanted to do it to begin with. It's a great piece with a good libretto and some of John's best music and it hasn't yet been heard complete in the UK. It doesn't take sides, it presents a perfectly balanced argument. It's a work of art."

Security for the night will be discussed with the Barbican next week, although Mr Hughes said: "We are not anticipating problems."

The opera is based on the hijacking in 1985 of the Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists in the Mediterranean and how they killed an American Jewish tourist, Leon Klinghoffer. The chorus comments on the historical tensions between Jews and Palestinians. It was premièred in Brussels in 1991, with similar criticisms levelled at the timing of the performance – the Gulf War was in progress then.