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The opening night of director Damiano Michieletto’s production of Rossini’s William Tell was met with a chorus of disapproval during a scene that depicted a violent sexual assault.
During the third act orchestral divertissement, Michieletto staged a scene in which soldiers forced a woman to drink champagne, molested her with a gun and stripped her. While a section of the audience appeared to boo the scene, some of them took to Twitter to voice their objections. One critic described the scene as a “gang rape”.
ROH Guillaume Tell: Chandelier. Camp Gesler... and a revolve that goes BOTH WAYS! Plus a gang rape scene in the ballet - enormous booing.— Mark Pullinger (@larkingrumple) June 29, 2015
Senseless, sensationalist Guillaume Tell complete with gratuitous nude rape scene @RoyalOperaHouse represents new nadir. Heads should roll.— Michael Arditti (@michaelarditti) June 29, 2015
Classic FM's music critic David Mellor said he was astounded. "In 40 years of opera going at Covent Garden, never before have I heard a storm of booing during a performance," he said.
"This repellent, extended rape scene in Act III – while acted out to some of Rossini's prettiest ballet music – was more than many in the audience could endure."
Not everybody disliked the show, and there was plenty of support for the production from social media and elsewhere:
The director has justified his decision to stage such a brutal scene, saying “If you don’t feel the brutality, the suffering these people have had to face, if you want to hide it, it becomes soft, it becomes for the children.”
Rossini’s rarely staged opera tells the story of a Swiss folk hero and it is most famous for the scene in which he shoots an apple on top of his son’s head. The most famous musical moment in the opera is the overture, which has been used in countless films and television series, most famously in the Lone Ranger series.
This is not the first time a production at The Royal Opera has been met with boos – most recently a new staging of Mozart’s Idomeneo was booed and Jonathan Kent’s production Manon Lescaut was met with some calls of disapproval. For this production, though, the Royal Opera House has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement in response.
The Royal Opera House’s director of opera Kasper Holten said: “The production includes a scene which puts the spotlight on the brutal reality of women being abused during war time, and sexual violence being a tragic fact of war. The production intends to make it an uncomfortable scene, just as there are several upsetting and violent scenes in Rossini’s score. We are sorry if some people have found this distressing.”
Image © ROH. Photographer: Clive Barda