The Death of Klinghoffer, running on four nights beginning Tuesday, is one of the highlights of the Edinburgh international arts festival.

Written by American Pulitzer prize-winning composer John Adams, with libretto by Alice Goodman, the two-act opera portrays events aboard the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro, which was seized by armed men in the Mediterranean Sea in 1985.

Wheelchair-bound American Jew Leon Klinghoffer, 69, was killed and thrown overboard by the guerrillas in the attack.

Scottish director Anthony Neilson told reporters in an interview that there had been complaints over the opera's staging from Jewish groups, including the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, and that a Los Angeles-based rabbi at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights group, had called for a boycott.

Festival authorities

Neilson said he believed the production, staged by the Scottish National Opera, was balanced.

"I hope [the opera] does what art is supposed to do, which is both reflect a serious issue and at the same time entertain"

Anthony Neilson,
director of the opera

"I think this opera will be an unusual experience for people and hopefully a gripping one, and one that I hope does what art is supposed to do, which is both reflect a serious issue and at the same time entertain," he said.

The festival authorities said it took "an objective and evenhanded approach in an attempt to understand the human motivations behind such terrible acts" as the hijacking and the murder of Klinghoffer.

Conductor Edward Gardner praised the music in the opera, which was composed in 1990-91 and premiered in Brussels in 1991, adding that people had come to expect a rhythmic, vibrant quality in Adams's work.

"This (opera) has got that, but it's got a huge range of other amazing lyrical moments, for the chorus, the orchestra and the soloists. It's the variety of the music in it that is almost the hardest thing about (conducting) it," Gardner said.

Adams's first opera, Nixon in China, also received its British premiere at the Edinburgh festival, in 1988.