U.S. Opera
Home About Composers Operas
Recommendations Download music Recordings, books and videos
Click on an opera's title for more information

Amahl and the Night Visitors

Amelia Goes to the Ball

Antony and Cleopatra

The Aspern Papers

The Ballad of Baby Doe

The Boor

The Canterbury Pilgrims

The Consul

The Cradle Will Rock


David Rizzio

The Death of Klinghoffer

Doctor Atomic


A Full Moon in March


The Ghosts of Versailles


The Greenfield Christmas Tree

A Hand Of Bridge

Harvey Milk

I Was Looking At the Ceiling And Then I Saw the Sky

Introductions and Good-Byes


The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

The King's Henchman

Little Women

Lord Byron

The Medium

Merry Mount

Miss Havisham's Fire

Miss Havisham's Wedding Night

Nixon in China

Peter Ibbetson

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Pipe of Desire

Porgy and Bess

Postcard from Morocco

A Quiet Place

Robin Hood

The Ruby

The Sacrifice

The Saint of Bleecker Street

Six Characters In Search of an Author

Solomon and Balkis

The Stoned Guest

The Stronger


The Tender Land


Trouble in Tahiti


A View From The Bridge

The Visitation

A Water Bird Talk

Will You Marry Me?

Please visit our sister sites:

Mousehold Words

The Atlas of Fiction

The Death of Klinghoffer

opera in two acts

Music by John Adams
Libretto by Alice Goodman
About The Death of Klinghoffer

The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams' second opera, takes as its subject the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. Again the concept for the opera was suggested by director Peter Sellars. The L.A. Opera shared the work's commission but never presented it.

Cast of Characters
The Captain, bar First Officer "Rambo", b-bar
Swiss Grandmother/Austrian Woman/British Dancing Girl, ms Molqui, t
Mamoud, bar Leon Klinghoffer, bar
Omar, ms Marilyn Klinghoffer, c
Choruses of Exiled Palestinians and Exiled Jews, etc.

The Death of Klinghoffer is told in a very different style than Adams' previous opera, Nixon in China. While based on historical events, Klinghoffer does not always treat them in a traditionally narrative manner, and the events we see are not always those we expect. Several important events in the historical narrative--including Klinghoffer's death itself--are not seen onstage, but only commented on after the fact. In addition, many of the characters sing their versions of the action as reminiscences, as for example in the Captain's opening aria, "It was just after 1:15," which recounts the original appearance of the hijackers on board. Meanwhile, each scene ends with a number in which the chorus reflects on the events that have occurred. The opera begins with a prelude consisting of two of these choruses, one sung by a Chorus of Exiled Palestinians and the other by a Chorus of Exiled Jews.

Act I begins with the Captain of the Achille Lauro narrating the events of the original hijacking; most of the passengers had disembarked for a tour of the Pyramids when the hijackers first appeared; the remaining ones were rounded up in the ship's restaraunt. Another version of the hijacking story is told by a Swiss Grandmother, one of the passengers, and then by the ship's First Officer, who also tells that a passenger had been shot in the leg, apparently accidentally when a bullet ricocheted off the floor. Molqui, one of the terrorists, sings an aria ("Give these orders") explaining the situation to the passengers and promising them safety. Scene 2 introduces another of the terrorists, Mamoud, a more dangerous and violent man than his companion. The Captain reflects on the fact that every ship is a kind of prison. ("I have often reflected") Another passenger relates how she locked herself in her cabin and stayed there through the entire episode, undiscovered. Mahmoud sings an aria about freedom, contrasting with the Captain's earlier song. ("Those birds flying")

The chorus that opens Act II, "When Hagar was led into the wilderness," recounts the Biblical story of Hagar and Ishmael, representing the beginnings of Arab-Israeli tension. Molqui is frustrated at the lack of a reply to his demands; he is afraid people will die. Mamoud says only, "Now we will kill you all." It is only now we see Leon Klinghoffer for the first time. Explaining that he is normally a person who likes to avoid trouble, he nevertheless goes on to condemn the hijackers, accusing them of simply using their ideologies as a license to fulfill their real desire--to kill. ("I've never been/A violent man") He is replied to in equally harsh terms by another hijacker, called "Rambo." ("You are always complaining") Another passenger tells her story, including her impressions of Klinghoffer. Finally we hear from the last of the terrorists, Omar, a young idealogue who is hoping to die in his cause. At the end of the scene, Omar and Molqi fight, and Molqui takes Klinghoffer away.

The next scene opens with Klinghoffer's wife Marilyn, talking about disability, illness, and death; she assumes that her husband has been taken to the ship's hospital. In fact, during her aria, he is killed, offstage, by the terrorists, who are now threatening to kill another passenger every fifteen minutes; the Captain tells them to kill him instead of a passenger. As the terrorists negotiate with shore, Leon Klinghoffer's body appears and sings a "Gymniopédie". In the final scene, after the crisis has been resolved and the passengers have disembarked, the Captain tells Marilyn Klinghoffer about her husband's death. ("Mrs. Klinghoffer, please sit down"/"You embraced them!")

Performance History
World premiere
Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels, Belgium
March 19, 1991
The Captain: James Maddalena
The First Officer; "Rambo": Thomas Hammons
Swiss Grandmother; Austrian Woman; British Dancing Girl: Janice Felty
Molqi: Thomas Young
Mamoud: Eugene Perry
Leon Klinghoffer: Sanford Sylvan
Omar: Sanford Sylvan
Marilyn Klinghoffer: Sheila Nader
Kent Nagano, conductor
Peter Sellars, stage direction
Mark Morris, choreographer
George Tsypin, set design
Dunya Ramicova, costume design
James F. Ingalls, lighting design
Jonathan Deans, sound design
John Boesche, projection design
European premiere
Opéra de Lyon, Lyon, France
March 19, 1991
(world premiere production)
New York premiere
Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York
September 5, 1991
(world premiere production)
Discography Search for recordings of The Death of Klinghoffer at Amazon.com

excerpts from The Death of Klinghoffer


John Adams

The John Adams Earbox

10 CD / Nonesuch 79453 (1999)

John Adams

The Death of Klinghoffer (premiere recording)

Opéra de Lyon/Nagano

2 CD / Elektra Nonesuch 9 79281-2 (1992)

Videography Search for videos of The Death of Klinghoffer at Amazon.com

John Adams

The Death of Klinghoffer

London Symphony Orchestra/Adams

DVD / Philips (2003)

Bibliography Search for book about The Death of Klinghoffer at Amazon.com

John Adams: Mrs. Klinghoffer's Aria from The Death of Klinghoffer


Boosey & Hawkes American Arias: Mezzo-Soprano

Boosey and Hawkes 2004

Last update: January 1, 2009