22 May 2016 | TheLittleSongbird
Intriguing but also somewhat of a challenge
It is easy to see why 'The Death of Klinghoffer' will be riveting and powerful to viewers. It is also easy to see why others will be alienated by it. With me, it's somewhere in the middle.
The good things here are numerous and undeniable but it wasn't quite my cup of tea, there are better opera films out there that are more accessibly done and of operas that are much more familiar. Let's start with the good things, shall we? The orchestra have much beauty, fire, dramatic intensity and nuance in their playing, the chorus transports one to heaven with their music and singing (which for me the choral parts are the highlights of the score) and none other than John Adams conducts and does so with authority yet sincerity.
'The Death of Klinghoffer' is beautifully and cleverly filmed too, and with strikingly atmospheric use of locations and lighting. There are some dramatically gripping and poignant moments here, and that there were some cuts did help making the storytelling slightly tighter and less rambling and without being too incoherent (which has happened several times from experience in opera performance with cuts). The performances are uniformly good, with wonderful all round singing and the ability to bring layers to even the least interesting of roles. Really also have to take issue with the criticism of the acting being bad and that's what to be expected in opera, generally actually- speaking as somebody who listens to opera, watches opera and has performed in opera for well over a decade- acting in opera has come on a long way so I consider the statement completely untrue on the whole. It was schlocky at times when opera started getting filmed for television and film but there is generally more individuality and more direction of the singers, even the admittedly many badly done concept/non-traditional productions have moments of these.
Particularly good are Christopher Maltman whose performance is poignantly conflicted and mellifluously sung, Leigh Melrose who is menacing but never stock, Tom Randle who brings many layers to his role and a sonorous voice and Kirsten Blase's passionately engaged soprano. Sanford Sylvan is devastatingly moving and dignified also in the title role, and he sings beautifully and sensitively. Yvonne Howard sings with a lot of warmth and appropriate sympathy but also bitterness, the confrontation with the captain is hair-raising. Susan Bickley is dependably very good too.
For all those great things too, for me 'The Death of Klinghoffer' doesn't come off completely successfully and as an overall film is quite difficult to rate. A lot of the problem is that the opera itself is not quite to my taste (much prefer 'Doctor Atomic' and 'Nixon in China' as far as John Adams operas go), there are some undeniably beautiful parts in the music, especially in the choral sections, and the story does grip and move in the right places and generally is handled tastefully, but even for minimalist music (where continuous obbligato and repetition is a chief characteristic) the music too often feels too repetitive and pedestrian, parts did start to feel like a dirge. With the story, these dramatically gripping and emotional moments don't come over completely consistently, there are a lot of points of view and the story is never sure what is the most valid one while the characters, despite the very good acting, are handled one-dimensionally (both in the opera and the film).
While there is some bold use of archived footage, pictures and such that gives the story more context to anybody unfamiliar to the story, it does get too much and in places where they weren't needed and only there to bloat the running time. It also makes the storytelling not as easy to follow as it should have been, there are parts where it is very easy to lose concentration and find that there's too much to absorb. Some of the images are genuinely harrowing, in other parts and too frequently it feels overdone with the shock value and it over-complicates the story.
All in all, intriguing but also challenging. 5/10 Bethany Cox