On October 7, 2023, my husband and I attended a performance of Nabucco at the Metropolitan Opera. Up until time to leave, we had been glued to the television watching reports of the devastating and shocking Hamas attacks on southern Israel and the beginning of the powerful responses from Israeli forces. The images of families being dragged through the streets, barefoot, were painful to watch. The numbers of the Israeli dead and those taken hostage were growing and so were the numbers of dead in the Gaza.

As I watched the members of the magnificent Met chorus play the captured
“Hebrews” singing their fear, loss and longing for their homeland, I could not help but change those costumes from ancient times to today—they were in jeans and hoodies; they were all Jews; they were truly terrified. I knew that I was going to cry at the end of the third act, when “Va, pensiero,” was sung, because I always do. This choral masterpiece is sometimes referred to as the chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. The setting is 586 BCE and the sorrow being commemorated is the loss of the First Temple in Jerusalem. On October 7, however, I did not cry just for the performance, I cried for the people who were now in a terrible kind of exile, and for those whose anger about their own exile is part of the rationale for the invasion.

I am not an uncritical advocate for the state of Israel, and I am certainly not an apologist for Benjamin Netanyahu. But the facts of the attacks seem clear: it was an invasion from Gaza; hundreds of Israelis were killed, and an unknown number of Israelis were taken hostage. In retaliation, hundreds of people who live in Gaza were killed in less than 12 hours. While the cause of the initial attacks and even the exact source are still being investigated, one thing is clear, the future promises only more death and destruction on both sides.

Sitting in the opera house, I was heartbroken, and I was angry. The heartbreak does not need to be explained. The anger does. First of all, I was angry that this attack was a surprise. What a failure of the revered intelligence operations of the state of Israel! What a failure of the United States’ intelligence service which reported on the next morning “We were not tracking this.”

But more specifically I felt a personal anger. Why was nothing, not one word said either before or after the production about the sad coincidence of these two events, not even a nod to the tradition that James Levine made famous of allowing an encore of “Va, pensiero” in the midst of the production.

Let’s remember that the Metropolitan Opera has a tradition of making such political statements. On November 14, 2015, 7 days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, before a production of Tosca, the full chorus came on stage, some in costume for the day’s performance and some in jeans. In unison they sang the Marseilles. The 2022 spring season saw many examples of the Metropolitan’s support for the Ukrainian people after Russia’s invasion of their country: on February 28, 2022, four days after the invasion of the Ukraine, the singing of the Ukrainian National Anthem, before the premiere of the new production of Don Carlos; on March 14, 2022, less than 2 weeks after the invasion of Ukraine, a benefit concert for Ukraine (during which in fact Verdi’s “Va, pensiero” was performed); and most controversially a separation from many famous artists who would not renounce their relationships with Vladimir Putin.

But on October 7, 2023, not one mention of the horrible coincidence of a performance of Nabucco and the invasion by Hamas into southern Israel. The next morning when the Metropolitan Opera company office opened, I called. The person who answered the phone politely listened. He said that he was taking notes. I am hoping that my concerns were in fact with those with authority to make policy decisions for the Met. I also hope that my daughter was right when I talked to her later in the day. She argued that the Metropolitan needed some time to craft the right response to an attack that while shocking and barbaric in its details did come from a people who also have been deprived of rights and a homeland. I do not condone the nature of the invasion, but I also do not condone the fact that Palestinians have been deprived of rights and a homeland for over 70 years.

Just as it has in the past, the Metropolitan Opera should make a statement, acknowledging the human tragedy that is unfolding.

Right now, I will continue to take my daughter’s advice and wait. I hope she is right.

I am waiting.