Interfaith Collaboration


In collaboration with the Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is assembling an interfaith steering committee to plan educational events surrounding the company’s June 2011 production of The Death of Klinghofferby renowed American composer John Adams.  The opera tells the tragic story of the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro and the resulting murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly American Jew.

“This is an opera about the tragedy of intolerance and the danger of extremism,” said General Director Timothy O’Leary.  “Now more than ever, we at Opera Theatre believe that one role of the arts in our world is to promote informed, respectful discussion that helps build understanding across cultural groups.  That is what we’re setting out to do with this project, in collaboration with the very active community of interfaith leaders in St. Louis.”

The interfaith steering committee will convene this fall to design educational events and activities designed to seek common ground and promote dialogue in advance of the landmark production.  Leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities will participate, including Batya Abramson-Goldstein, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Dr. David Greenhaw, president of the Eden Theological Seminary, Dr. Ghazala Hayat, St. Louis University neurologist and former chairwoman of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, and Rabbi Howard Kaplansky, chair of the Advisory Board for the Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed our conversations with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis,” said Ms. Abramson-Goldstein.  “We have spoken in depth about the power of this opera to launch a broad-based series of conversations in St. Louis that can build understanding and respect … and community.”

Added Dr. Hayat, “It takes wisdom and courage to address a sensitive issue and be objective as much as possible.  These endeavors help understanding and bring communities together.”

Dr. Greenhaw added, “I’m pleased to have an opportunity to call on longstanding friendships and engage the community in what I think will be relatively sensitive conversations about a very terrible and violent act.  I think art ought to provoke and there is an opportunity with that provocation to engage us in conversation.”

Opening on June 15, 2011, Opera Theatre’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer will be the first U.S. staging of John Adams’s opera since the original 1991 production, although the opera has been performed more recently in concerts in New York.  Opera Theatre’s artistic director James Robinson will stage the production which will be conducted by Michael Christie, with Christopher Magiera returning as the Captain, former Gerdine Young Artist and Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner Elliot Madore returning as the terrorist Mahmoud, and Brian Mulligan making his Opera Theatre debut as Leon Klinghoffer.  The cast also includes Nancy Maultsby, Paul LaRosa, Lucy Schaufer, Matt DiBattista, and former Gerding Young Artist Laura Wilde.

Further announcements about the specific events planned for the spring will be made later this fall.

The Death of Klinghoffer is made possible with a leadership gift from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and with generous support from Whitaker Foundation.

Opera Theatre is a sustaining member of the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis and receives major support from the National Endowment for the Arts; Regional Arts Commission; and Missouri Arts Council.


Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a spring festival of inventive new productions featuring the finest American singers, sung in English, and accompanied by members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.  As of 2010, Opera Theatre has presented 22 world premieres and 22 American premieres — which is perhaps the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company.  Described by The Sunday Times of London as “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare,” and by Opera Today as, “the leading summer opera destination in the United States.”  Opera Theatre of Saint Louis welcomed visitors from 47 states and 10 foreign countries in 2010.  Although the size of the theater limits box office income to 25% of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of the highest quality while never accumulating a deficit.


The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera by composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman premiered at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium, in 1991.  Co-commissioners included Brooklyn Academy of Music, Opera de Lyon, Glyndebourne Festival, Los Angeles Festival, and the San Francisco Opera.  The opera tells the story of teh hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, and the resulting murder of Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer.


One of America’s most admired and respected composers, John Adams is a musician of enormous range and technical command.  His works, both operatic and symphonic, stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes.  In 1985, Adams began a collaboration with the poet Alice Goodman and stage director Peter Sellars that resulted in two groundbreaking operas: Nixon in China (1987) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1991).  Doctor Atomic, a collaboration with Sellars about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the first atomic bomb, premiered in 2005.  Produced worldwide, these works are among the most performed operas of the last two decades.  Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls, composed for the New York Philharmonic in 2002 to commemorate the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and the recording on Nonesuch won a rare “tripple crown” of Grammy Awards: “Best Classical Recording,” “Best Orchestra Performance,” and “Best Classical Contemporary Composition.”  Adams’s works are among the very few written in our own time that have achieved repertory status, appearing regularly on programs by orchestras throughout the world.


“Adams creates a revolutionary, continually shifting tapestry … a work that fires the heart.”

—Katrine Ames, Newsweek


“The continuing impact of Adams’ score and Alice Goodman’s libretto has little to do with the brutal balletics of the hijacking.  The incident is a conduit for far more frightening and subtle meditations on grief and rage … The opening choruses for the exiled Palestinians and exiled Jews — an intoxicating blend of the devotional and the secular — are without parallel in contemporary art music.

— Anna Picard, Independent (London)


“… unshrinkingly shows the viciousness of terrorism and the three-dimensional reality of victims who might otherwise recede into facelessness.  There may be a bit of tweaking of American (not Jewish) material comforts.  But in the end Klinghoffer is not anti-American or antibourgeois or anti-Semitic but prohuman.  It shows unequivocally that murder is nothing more than that, vicious and unconscionable.”

—John Rockwell, The New York Times


“… an extraordinary performance of a rarely heard but important and overpowering contemporary work of continuing relevance … Adams’ intensely pulsating score is texturally opulent, unerringly attuned dramatically and at times downright gorgeous; his use of the full orchestra is masterful.” 

Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News