Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Gesture, Temporality, and the Politics of Engagement in Opera on Film

Penny Woolcock's The Death of Klinghoffer

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2014), 8, (1), 57–85.

Abstract

Though many critics believe that opera is at its best when performed and witnessed live, several scholars have suggested the possibility for the presentation of opera on film to expose elements—perhaps fundamental to the themes of these works—that their staged counterparts simply cannot. In this essay, I consider Penny Woolcock's 2003 filmic rendering of the controversial John Adams/Alice Goodman opera The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) with this very possibility in mind. With an interest in the frictions and surprising resonances between Woolcock's choice of images and Adams's minimalist score, I focus on the work's manipulation of traditional conceptions of operatic subjectivity, extending this to the listener/viewer's subjectivity to reimagine the possibilities for engagement with the work. Finally, I offer a cultural reading of the temporal dimensions of Adams's score, arguing that the work's focus on the historical weight of the present moment negates the essence of the Jewish-Israeli historical mode. The narrative aperture created by the tensions between the moving image and Adams's music (specifically in Leon Klinghoffer's ‘Aria of the Falling Body’) provide the listener/viewer with opportunities for continued political engagement with the opera's themes.

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Renihan, Colleen