Entertainment & Arts

Nude rape scene booed by Royal Opera House audience

The Royal Opera House
Image caption The Royal Opera house apologised for any distress caused

The opening night of William Tell at the Royal Opera House has been marked by boos over a rape scene with nudity.

The Opera House issued a statement after the performance of Guillaume Tell apologising for any distress caused.

Director of opera Kasper Holten said: "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."

'Brutality and suffering'

Holten said the scene "puts the spotlight on the brutal reality of women being abused during war time, and sexual violence being a tragic fact of war."

Rossini's opera of the Swiss patriot, William Tell, who shoots an arrow that splits an apple atop his son's head, has been directed by Damiano Michieletto and stars Canadian baritone Gerald Finley as Tell and American tenor John Osborn.

Osborn told Reuters after the performance that the scene "maybe it went a little longer than it should have".

"But it happened and I think it's an element you can use to show just how horrible these people were that were occupying this town," he said.

"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 children."

The Stage gave the production one star. George Hall called it a "dire evening" in which the "gratuitous gang-rape" scene provoked "the noisiest and most sustained booing I can ever recall during any performance at this address".

"Intellectually poverty-stricken, emotionally crass and with indifferent stagecraft, the result is nowhere near the standard an international company should be aiming at", he said.

Image copyright Twitter

Michael Arditti, the Sunday Express theatre critic said the production represented a "new nadir" for the opera house and "heads should roll".

Eaves, which is a charity that supports women who have experienced violence, said "sexual violence in conflict can be dealt with in sensitive ways - not gratuitous entertainment - bad call."

The opera house put up an article on its website not mentioning the scene, but asking the audience what they thought of the production.

Tim Moorey responded, calling the production "a disappointment from beginning to end. No wonder it received calls of 'rubbish' and lots of boos during the performance and at the end.

'In shock'

"I should especially single our the gratuitous rape scene which was totally unnecessary and received almost universal disapproval and much booing."

But some were upset at the booing in the audience. Janice Evans wrote she was "in shock at this level of intolerance exhibited in the ROH".

"I felt abused by their aggression and ashamed of their disrespect for the performers."

Mark Valencia writing for What's on Stage pointed out that first night booing is "a fast-growing problem at Covent Garden" that doesn't happen at other opera houses.

"It's become standard practice for the director of practically every new production to be jeered by practised factions in the audience who object to ideas that go beyond the literal reading of an opera," he said.

Audience protest

But at last night's first night "the perpetrators did something unheard of: they booed during the music. And they did so loudly and long."

They also booed at the end of the performance when the production team came on stage for the curtain call.

The opera is Italian director Damiano Michieletto's debut at the Royal Opera House.

It is not the first time he has experienced protests from audiences.

His production of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) at La Scala in 2013 saw some audience members - who accused him of desecrating the opera - protesting with a shower of leaflets thrown at the end of the first act.

'Theatre is not a church'

But speaking to Tom Service on BBC Radio Three last week, he insisted he did not aim to scandalise.

"No, not at all... you have to provoke in a good sense, I want to provoke a reaction, I want to make the audience feel the emotions, the empathy with these characters and with this story."

He said he did not have to give traditional audiences what they wanted.

"Tradition for me has to be like a trampoline - to jump to somewhere. It's not to drag you down.

"Of course different countries have different aesthetics and tastes. My task is not to fulfil the tastes, my task is to give you something good.

"I try to be really clear with the audience, I try to be really honest with them - even if they don't like my ideas or they don't like the way I'm proposing them."

He added: "Theatre is not a temple, theatre is not a church, theatre is a place of freedom of challenging of emotions of life".

'Overstepped the mark'

Joining the debate about the performance Daniele Sanderson, deputy head of Birmingham School of Acting at Birmingham City University said Michieletto was walking a very fine line.

"Sometimes directors and playwrights who want to be seen to be controversial can go quite far in their portrayal of hard hitting subjects. It can feel to them as if they are being 'real' or 'truthful'.

"This feeling is quite seductive and those involved can genuinely not realise that they have overstepped the mark between provocative art and bad taste. They lose the perspective of portraying a shocking, vulgar or offensive event and end up simply being offensive themselves."

The Royal Opera's production of William Tell will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday 14th July at 5.50pm

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites