I don’t know to what extent this city practices religious tolerance. But the two noble and awe-inspiring architectural landmarks in the tony, leafy, popular Central West End are the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis and the immense Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the region’s largest employer.
This does, in fact, happen to be a good place to get some perspective on the Metropolitan Opera’s controversial decision to drop its Live in HD worldwide broadcast of John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” to movie theaters. The Met has succumbed to the admonitions of the Anti-Defamation League, which worries about the opera inflaming anti-Semitism.
Those fears have been raised every time “Klinghoffer” has been performed in its 23-year history, including at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2011. But in fact, the only anti-Semitism this work -- which delves deep into the idealistic roots but inevitably evil practices of terrorism -- has ever engendered has been because of often successful pressure from Jewish groups to ban performances of “Klinghoffer” rather than incorporate poetic tragedy into the peace process.
The St. Louis connection to the controversy turns out to be significant. David Robertson, the music director of the St. Louis Symphony, will be the conductor of the Met “Klinghoffer” production. And the St. Louis Symphony is the orchestra in the pit for all Opera Theatre productions.
Not only that but St. Louis has become Adams Central in the Midwest for the past decade. Ten years ago, Opera Theatre mounted Adams’ first opera, “Nixon in China,” after it had long languished in the U.S., and that production (which will reach San Diego Opera next season) sparked a major revival of the work throughout North America.
Opera Theatre’s “Klinghoffer” was seen as a daring move, American opera companies (including Los Angeles Opera) having long shied away from it, yet there was no trouble, only important discussion. The same was true when Long Beach Opera mounted that production this season.
Meanwhile, Robertson has made the St. Louis Symphony one of the most important Adams orchestras. They have just issued a Nonesuch recording of Adams’ new Saxophone Concerto that also includes a terrific performance of “City Noir” that gives the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel a run for their money. Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony, moreover, will surely be major participants in the upcoming 70th birthday celebrations for Adams in 2017.
Opera Theatre this year has turned not to Adams, who lives in Berkeley, but Gertrude Stein, who was born in neighboring Oakland, with the premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s “27.” The opera is about the live Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris at 27 Rue de Fleurus and will be reviewed Friday.
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