Conductor Daniel Barenboim has made his debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera, 51 years after he first played the US.
The 66-year-old, who grew up in Israel and is also known for his championing of Palestinian rights, took charge of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
Associated Press reviewer Mike Silverman said the conductor "drew inspired playing from the orchestra".
"Tristan is an opera about death. There is nothing more democratic in the world than death," Barenboim told reporters.
"It is that death, the fear of death and the looking for death as the only possible way to solve the entanglement in which they find, this is the motor of the opera.
"In the end, it comes to everyone. He who spends his life thinking about death misses out on one of the most forceful dimensions of human existence."
'Thrilled and delighted'
In 2001, Barenboim performed extracts from Tristan und Isolde in Israel, breaking an unofficial ban on works by Wagner, whose anti-Semitic views influenced Adolf Hitler.
In January, he accepted honorary Palestinian citizenship.
He said he was "thrilled and delighted" to see Barack Obama win the US election, but was not expecting the President-elect to find a quick solution to the region's troubles.
"It's unrealistic to hope that he will achieve a solution to all these problems," he said.
"I think the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be solved only by the Israelis and the Palestinians, but it has to have the backing of the rest of the world. It cannot be an initiative from the outside."
He said his reaction to Mr Obama's election came from his early experiences in the US.
"I read with my own eyes at the entrance of a golf club in Miami in 1958 - a sign that said: 'No Jews, no blacks and no dogs allowed.' So there is quite a development in all that."
Barenboim brought his own Berlin cast, including Katarina Dalayman as Isolde and Peter Seifert as Tristan, to the New York Met, and he will conduct five further performances over the next three weeks.
But the soprano and tenor received less glowing reviews than their mentor.
Silverman said Dalayman's voice "had trouble rising above the orchestra" at times, while Seifert's voice threatened to give out by the end of the opera.
During his US trip, Barenboim will also perform two concerts as a soloist with the Boston Symphony and an all-Liszt recital in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.