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  • Guillaume Tell: A response to recent debate and discussion

Guillaume Tell: A response to recent debate and discussion

Read a joint response from Alex Beard, Antonio Pappano and Kasper Holten.

By Royal Opera House

1 July 2015 at 6.00pm | 142 Comments

You might be aware of very strong public reactions to a scene in the third act of Guillaume Tell (William Tell) where there is a depiction of a young woman being attacked and sexually humiliated by a group of officers.

We want to assure you that the public reaction to this scene has been of great concern to us and we take it very seriously. For this reason, we want to make sure that ticket holders are warned in advance of watching the show, that they will be seeing a scene depicting momentary nudity and violence of a threatening sexual nature.

We feel that the scene in question is not gratuitous but is founded in the libretto of the opera and in the context of the overall action of the piece. In the first act of the opera, we hear that a father has had to violently defend his daughter, resorting to murder, against an attempted abduction by an Austrian officer. In the third act the libretto suggests a brutal domination of the Swiss women by the Austrian military.

The production tries to convey the horrible reality of warfare. A tragic fact of war around the world is that women are sexually attacked and violated, and the director wanted to shine the spotlight on this and express disgust for such behaviour and any kind of sexual violence. It is made clear in the production that it is an act of brutality and inhumanity that is indefensible, and the hero Guillaume Tell intervenes to save the girl who is attacked, at the risk of his own and his son’s life.

As mentioned, the reactions have made a deep impact on us. It has never been our intention to offend members of our audience, but for the scene to prompt reflection on the consequences of such terrible crimes on their victims. However, we are aware that some audience members might not want to be exposed to a depiction of sexual violence in this way, and so we have written to ticket holders to make sure they feel properly warned about this short scene in act 3 in advance of watching the production.

We do hope that our production of Guillaume Tell will still make a strong impression in a good way.

This article has 142 comments

  1. Frank Chalmers responded on 1 July 2015 at 6:32pm Reply

    Thank you for this statement. It's entirely right to explain and defend the original intention of the opera as it is now portrayed...by the ROH. I hope the disruptive elements in the audience will stay away now they have been informed of the potential for strong reactions to artistic presentations....stand by your guns ROH. Well done...

  2. Attila responded on 1 July 2015 at 6:39pm Reply

    You cannot warn people about a disturbing scene which they might not wish to be exposed to without offering a refund. Or are you asking them simply not to turn up or inviting them to leave early?

    • Ellen West (Head of Product Management) responded on 1 July 2015 at 8:35pm

      Dear Attila

      Audience members who have tickets but are concerned about the scene should get in touch with the box office to discuss options. The phone number is at the bottom of the page.

      Best wishes

      Ellen

  3. I feel it is rather cheap and cheerful of the ROH not to remove this scene... Screams publicity stunt to me... Now weirdos will come to the opera just to see this, as already thrown all over the popularising scene: women being vulgarised and over sexualised... Well done.

  4. Stef responded on 1 July 2015 at 7:15pm Reply

    Thank you very much for this clever and detailed response. I do hope ROH audience members will be using their brains rather than their guts from now on. Or maybe they'd better go to church rather than coming to the theatre. This silly booing was pathetic and anachronistic and so were most of the prude comments posted in the last couple of days.

  5. Paul Taylor responded on 1 July 2015 at 7:17pm Reply

    There are many means to depict the horror of warfare in an artistic presentation without rape and nudity onstage. This violence in this opera, which I viewed with my family, was an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise wonderful institution. It was also very inappropriate to sell tickets to families with children without warning explicitly about the content.

  6. Howard Lester responded on 1 July 2015 at 7:27pm Reply

    Quote from ROH statement: "However, we are aware that some audience members might not want to be exposed to a depiction of sexual violence in this way..."

    Are you implying that such ticket holders can return their tickets for a full refund?

  7. Martin Dodsworth responded on 1 July 2015 at 7:37pm Reply

    But actually the main problem was that the production is a complete disaster from the very beginning, the rape scene was simply the last straw and is now being used by the Royal Opera to deflect from the main issue, which is that since Kasper Holten too over we have had to suffer one appallingly bad new production after another. This letter does nothing to address this issue which is of far more concern to regular attenders of the Opera House than one more gratuitous rape scene.
    As many critics commented the gap between musical and directorial standards is becoming a yawning chasm.

    • I could not agree more. The whole production is a work of a team of amateurs. Badly lit, badly staged, badly directed. Plus it is not connected to the music of Rossini at all. This scene was just the tipping point.

    • Kay Harrington responded on 2 July 2015 at 10:50pm

      Yes, Martin, spot on. What has been conveniently missed by the ROH & other commentators, is this wave of anger that swept through the Amphitheatre, which had to be experienced to understand, was a cumulative response not just to one uncomfortable incident but arose from an audience that had had enough of the raft of grim productions inflicted upon them since the appointment of Kasper Holten.

  8. D Conley responded on 1 July 2015 at 8:09pm Reply

    It's interesting that a combined response misses the point entirely about the complaints made. There is a debate ongoing at the moment about the increasing use of graphic displays of sexual violence in TV programmes, film etc. The violence is always directed at women to the point of banality which in a sense adds to its normalisation. It's an uncomfortable fact that we have become inured to it. The graphic scene therefore served no meaningful purpose and therefore was gratuitous and very often women in these roles have no choice in the matter and can be persuaded to do these scenes in the me of art against their better judgement. More often these women are not in a position to refuse to perform these scenes.

  9. Nigel Grimshaw responded on 1 July 2015 at 8:28pm Reply

    The measured response to press comment is appreciated. You are quite right in that warfare invariably involves a lot of dreadful matters quite apart from the fighting. The victors - who write the history - generally stay silent about this. To confront the issue and throw light on it, however difficult, should be welcomed.

  10. Michael Graham responded on 1 July 2015 at 8:45pm Reply

    I agree with Mr Dodsworth. The production was so inappropriate and clichéd that the audience had all but lost the will to live by the time the gang rape was portrayed to ballet music, of all things
    It was later followed by young children being undressed on stage, to their underwear by their mothers. It was obviously intended to be innocent but was disturbing, as a public spectacle.
    Apart from failing to warn the public, adequately in advance about the graphic portrayal of sexual violence, the ROH presumably failed to consider whether allowing this was appropriate. I sincerely hope the children on stage were prevented from seeing the rape scene.Some young children in the audience were not so lucky.
    Shame on you three for such a self-serving statement!

  11. Steve Freeman responded on 1 July 2015 at 8:47pm Reply

    We called the box office today (actually because of a clash) and we can't even change to another performance, never mind get a refund. The letter is to make the Administration feel better, not to change anything.

    • Ellen West (Head of Product Management) responded on 1 July 2015 at 9:09pm

      Dear Steve

      Apologies for any confusion. If you ring the box office in the morning you will be able to exchange your tickets for another performance.

      Best wishes

      Ellen

    • Steve Freeman responded on 3 July 2015 at 6:28pm

      @Ellen Saw your note too late, I'm afraid. We caught the first act.

  12. Claude-Michel Schönberg responded on 1 July 2015 at 8:50pm Reply

    The warning is coming late, as I saw some young members in the audience, Monday evening...As for movies the production on stage must be rated in advance.
    Having said that, I did enjoy the production faraway from the Robin's Wood cliché and freedom of expression must be protected...
    Operas are not museums.

    • Edward Lambert responded on 1 July 2015 at 11:40pm

      Operas are not museums - no, but they are operas. Operas are unreal, why pretend they have to be cinematic? Or was the director aiming at the cinema relay and ignoring the live audience upon which successful opera so desperately depends?

  13. Arlene Beare responded on 1 July 2015 at 9:12pm Reply

    I completely agree with Martin Dodsworth and the views he has expressed. The whole production was the problem not just the rape scene. It will be a big mistake to screen this worldwide even with an age limit. I have looked through many texts such as Groves and Kobbes and can find no justification for this interpretation of what Rossini's opera is about. Kobbe says Rossini demonstrates a new interest in folk music,nature and the picturesque. We certainly never got any of this in this drab production with an imaginary William Tell wandering around sticking arrows into tables.In the text Leuthold arrives in Act 1 and has killed an Austrian who attempted to rape his daughter. Nowhere does it say that we need to see a rape. In Schiller's play he concentrates on William Tell and his son and there is no lengthy description of soldiers raping women.The Royal Opera has let us down badly.

  14. Roy responded on 1 July 2015 at 9:16pm Reply

    I would be horrified if they did remove the offending scene, as I am going on Sunday and would feel cheated if I were to be given a truncated version at full price. So in my view the strengthened warning is the right approach. they hired the director, they must now stand by his vision. Though hiring him for a second piece before seeing how well the first is received may prove unwise. Will cav and pag need advance warning too I wonder ?

  15. I have tickets for Sunday. I'm not sure what to make of all this - and to be honest I do not think your explanation adds anything or helps very much. I fully appreciate the need for artistic license and free expression and as someone who was appalled the Romans in Briton was hounded from the stage I'm not in favour of censorship. That said, opera is peculiarly a medium where the music speaks over all. I cannot guess what Rossini might have intended or approved of - but nor can you. However, it seems odd to me that we need a health warning to watch this opera - no matter what subject matter may be justly reflected from libretto into to the stage action - you all need to reflect very carefully on how it was you have had to come to this pass where you need to issue what is in effect a 'X' rating for sex and violence for a entertainment on a Sunday afternoon....and I emphasise Sunday in this context as one who will have been at Mass.

  16. Linda Cooke responded on 1 July 2015 at 9:23pm Reply

    I echo the comment made by Rupert Christiansen in The Daily Telegraph "If this sort of interpretation represents the future of opera, then God help us all". Cheap!

  17. Geoff responded on 1 July 2015 at 10:21pm Reply

    What does it take to get the senior management of Covent Garden to admit they have made a mistake?
    Not only did the spontaneous reaction from a normally docile audience to the 'rape scene' allmost bring the performance to a halt, but anyone in touch with UK news would have realised that undressing and bathing small children in their underwear for. no obvious reason is inappropriate. That Mr Holten had responded to a distressed member of the audience from the Dress Rehearsal that he would seek to make changes makes this joint statement unforgivable.

  18. Tony Watts responded on 1 July 2015 at 10:35pm Reply

    Writing ahead of seeing the two performances I'm booked in for as well as the HD relay. However most of my friends who attended the premiere seemed not so much worried about the one particular scene, but rather the extremely feeble nature of the production as a whole. As with an earlier correspondent I am deeply worried by the succession of dismal stagings we have suffered since Mr. Holten took over with only the superb Frau Ohne Schatten and Kroll Roger as thing beacons of excellence by way of compensation. I find it hard to believe that a house which boasts an inspirational music director, a fine orchestra and chorus can inflict on its patrons such abysmal rubbish as the recent productions of Parsifal and I Due Foscari let alone the dire Ballo In Maschera which must stand as the worst staging i have seen in forty years of attending the Royal Opera. This sort of theatrical non-event is not challenging the audience at Covent Garden, rather it is insulting its intelligence. The poor level of decision-making at management level needs to improve considerably as feelings are already running high among regular opera goers whose customer keep the house in business. If this is the best Mr. Holten can come up with, then he is obviously not the man for the job. One hoped for better in the future - it can hardly get any worse.

    • Sunon Bostic responded on 2 July 2015 at 10:14am

      I completely agree with you, Tony. I am a staunch supporter of clever innovation and creative license as long as there is some justification and sense threading the piece together. However, this truly embarrassing justification, such as we have heard before from Mr Holten in an equally dismissive post on Intermezzo's blog and as he suggests in his introduction to the season in the ROH magazine, is utterly egotistical and disrespectful. Passing this kind of unnecessary rubbish as art and in this case, depicting violence and rape graphically is nonsense and ineffective. I think Mr Holten should resign and for Pappano to put his name to this is a real disappointment.

  19. Tony Watts responded on 1 July 2015 at 10:37pm Reply

    Pardon my characteristic typos. I hope you get my drift.

    • I'm with you - recent times have seen some terribel stagings of wonderful opera - La donna del Lago was cringe making in its awfulness - I thought the new Don Giovanni was dreadful - my poor sister who had never seen it before could not make out what the hell was going on....I fear it may have out her off Mozart....there had previously been a rather wonderful production so why waste money on that awful new one?

  20. Lisa Katsiaris responded on 1 July 2015 at 10:38pm Reply

    Thank you for posting this message. I believe that the arts should hold a mirror up to the human condition, encourage us to question the world around us, and prompt discussion. I agree with ROH's decision not to alter this aspect of the production. I was at the Royal Opera on opening night, however, I cannot comment on this scene - I left at the end of Act II as I was not enjoying the production (the couple next to me had already left at the end of Act I). The director's vision failed to translate across the footlights and I could not connect with the characters; I simply didn't care enough to stay for Acts III and IV. There have been many comments on the scene in question - one of the most perceptive comments I've read is that such a scene needs to make us cry at the same that it disgusts us. From what I've read, all it did was offend. This is not the failing of the audience but the failure of the director to impart his vision. All very disappointing. Please take note before Cav & Pag later this year.

  21. Jonathan Birt responded on 1 July 2015 at 10:41pm Reply

    Much of the supportive comment on the ROH site has been turned into an attack on the audience. Do you gentlemen agree that you have the wrong kind of audience and is this an attempt to drive them out and replace them? I have been coming to the ROH for more than two decades and until recently we bought multiple tickets for each season in advance to avoid missing out on wonderful and extraordinary experiences that stay with us after many years. The depressing experience of so many productions since Mr Holten joined has made us wait for the reviews before deciding whether to buy tickets, and I expect many more will now be encouraged to do the same.

  22. Brian Challoner responded on 1 July 2015 at 10:53pm Reply

    "Stand by your guns" says Frank Chalmers. How wonderfully [in]appropriate given that it is the sickening and meretricious juxtaposition of children, guns, rape and what looks like a black beach (did Tunisia cross your mind ROH) which makes this tawdry and facile "production" particularly inappropriate. Dear me that it should come to this.

  23. Monica Franklin responded on 1 July 2015 at 11:34pm Reply

    The rape scene or whatever it is is crass and tacky. However the children beign washed in their skimpy underwear is even more deplorable and perverse. The little girls and boys would not have worn that kind of clothing in that time period. They would have worn bloomers to say the least.

  24. Ella Parks responded on 1 July 2015 at 11:34pm Reply

    Is there anything more hideously self-serving than a man defending his right to watch a good gang rape?

  25. Will smith responded on 1 July 2015 at 11:40pm Reply

    Martin Dodsworth is right. The issue as raised repeatedly on the "join the conversation" page was that the whole direction was abysmal. The rape scene was the last straw. This letter and Kaspar holtens earlier letter are merely focusing on the rape scene to deflect attention from the standards of direction of the whole production and in general at roh.

  26. Will smith responded on 1 July 2015 at 11:44pm Reply

    This scene and the production in general was not capable of prompting reflection.

  27. William Russell responded on 2 July 2015 at 1:10am Reply

    Frankly the scene was shocking in its own right, but all it amounted to was the director doing what opera directors too often too and creating sensation for sensations sake. One watched appalled and counted the moves, they will fondle her, they will rip off her dress, somehow, without taking their pants off they will rape her, she will rise, she will grab the tablecloth after giving the audience a quick flash of pubic hair and breasts and flee and it happened - he couldn't even come up with something innovative. I know that the chorus can't mostly act, and had this been a film the scene would have lasted for seconds instead of dragging on for ever to music which had nothing to do with what was going on. But he achieved what he wanted - a scandal and his staging of the opera which otherwise would have passed without comment in the public prints is news. The professionalism of the cast, the chorus, the orchestra is beyond doubt but your director is a charlatan when it comes to his reason for doing staging the scene. The production as a whole was dire anyway and would otherwise have passed without comment other than reviews praising the playing and the singing and that doesn't make news, it is confined to the arts pages read by whoever reads them. A few bare bums and some male appendages might have lent it some authenticity, but that would be asking too much of your chorus. You should as a management be ashamed of yourself for letting Mr Holten put on your stage such badly directed ill judged rubbish and then to justify it as he did. The amphitheatre was right to boo and the booing was universal. People then applauded the performers.

    • S das Neves Pedro responded on 2 July 2015 at 12:55pm

      Well said Mr Russell. This was not ground breaking, clever, imaginative theatre this was at best tawdry and lazy and in reality gratuitous and offensive.
      Can we now expect to see real killings and torture on stage just in case some of the audience (unsophisticated bunch that we are) have failed to grasp that bad things happen in war.
      The directors and management should be ashamed of themselves for thinking that it is ok to have a woman molested and stripped on stage. Women have a hard enough time trying to get rape and abuse by men taken seriously without it being justified in this way and portrayed on the stage of the roh.

  28. Sarah Bryant responded on 2 July 2015 at 1:22am Reply

    I completely agree with Geoff - when will management just admit they've made a mistake? The response from them is ineffectual and misses the point entirely. Regardless of the unnecessary scenes showing violent rape and the undressing of children, the whole production is dire, a complete waste of taxpayer's money. And no, the director didn't stage this to express his disgust for such behaviour, he's just another talentless sod that has to sell a production with sex and violence. Just go to Hollywood and leave us alone. If I wanted to watch gratuitous violent fictionalised events I'd just watch the BBC news. I definitely won't be sorry to see the back of Kasper Holten but lately I'm starting to look forward to the time when Tony Pappano moves on. As much as I admire the man I think he's made some extremely poor decisions over the last few years. Time for some new management at the ROH.

  29. Barbara Johnston responded on 2 July 2015 at 2:32am Reply

    As others have aptly stated. Damiano Michieletto’s staging of William Tell is tasteless and inexplicably vulgar. There is no dramatic excuse for depicting 20 men from the chorus taunting, striping naked and raping a woman. While such crimes are characteristic of war, they are horrible and deeply inhumane. Depicting such acts on stage as ‘entertainment’ sensationalises and diminishes the evil of such crimes. It forces the audience to participate as voyeurs. The audience was quite right to forcefully object. Some crimes are described as 'unimaginable' precisely because they are considered completely beyond human decency- not because they are actually unimaginable. There is no valid reason for the rape scene to be included in this production.The ROH should be ashamed and Michieletto ought to be sent packing.

  30. David Heathcote responded on 2 July 2015 at 7:00am Reply

    A great response. I'm looking forward to seeing the opera at the cinema on Sunday.

  31. Latifa Kosta responded on 2 July 2015 at 7:44am Reply

    Opera can take many forms, but most of all is what the composer wants us to see and understand through the power of his music .
    I would have loved to know what Rossini would have thought of this production . In
    Today's world we are exposed everyday to the tragedies of war through TV and the media . Once again exposing the audience
    Of all ages to these scenes , are certainly out of context . Interpreting Opera is very important , the composer has already given us the material, the audience wants to enjoy and feel the opera , be it happy or tragic , and not be shocked and disturbed . I hope that more attention will be given to productions at the Royal Opera House to avoid these kind of comments .

  32. John Assirati responded on 2 July 2015 at 8:43am Reply

    Listening to Radio 3 this morning, I learn that Michieletto has now said that the problem is that London audiences are unsophisticated and that audiences are more accepting in Berlin. Signor Michielrtto, might I suggest "if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen".

  33. Ekaterina responded on 2 July 2015 at 8:45am Reply

    OK ROH, show everyting you want on stage, but please react somehow to your shop clients' emails too. No info for 3 months except for confirmation that 'your money was received thank you very much'. That's what is really disgusting, not the portrayal of a cruel thing as cruel.

  34. Rhona W responded on 2 July 2015 at 8:49am Reply

    I agree with previous comments that the rape scene was the straw that broke the camel's back and that the entire production was incredibly poor and in my view insulting to the intelligence. The staging distracted from the music and wonderful performances rather than enhance the production as good staging should do. I also agree that undressing children on stage is entirely inappropriate unless part of the plot and several of the children looked very uncomfortable. There were also young children in the audience who were subjected to a drawn out rape scene. I think the ROH management are missing the point in that the displeasure was directed at the production as a whole and not just at the controversial rape scene.

  35. Kate Heath responded on 2 July 2015 at 9:19am Reply

    What this badly written response from Beard, Pappano and Holten (all men!) fails to grasp is that rape in this context depicts male power over women, and they ignore that fact in this published "response" by referring to the perpetrators as "officers" and the victim as a "girl" whom the nice GT tries to save!!!!! They also attempt to minimise the impact of this rape by calling it "a short scene in Act 3"
    Another "tragic fact of war" is that black people,Jews, gypsies, gay men, people with learning difficulties and many other "minority groups" are targeted as victims by powerful men. But I believe even the ROH would know it was unacceptable to portray for example a racist or anti-semitic lynching scene.
    Statistics show that 44% of women in the UK have been the victims of sexual violence; the 22% of your audience who have this personal experience do not need your patronising. The depiction of this gratuitous rape scene will have no effect whatsoever on stopping the violence against women worldwide despite the producer's alleged "disgust for such behaviour" (what an unbelievably weak choice of language to explain rape in war!)
    My comments here relate specifically to the ROH's pathetic published response above to the public outcry, not to the merits or otherwise of the production.

  36. Giacomo responded on 2 July 2015 at 9:23am Reply

    Are refunds being offered?

    Why was this information not available before we bought tickets? (The only positive from Guillaume Tell is we now know to not buy Cav/Pag.)

    • Ellen West (Head of Product Management) responded on 2 July 2015 at 9:25am

      Dear Giacomo

      Thank you for your message. You can contact the box office on the number at the foot of the page to discuss options.

      Best wishes

      Ellen

    • Giacomo responded on 2 July 2015 at 9:37am

      Ellen, please give an answer here and in public.

    • Ellen West (Head of Product Management) responded on 2 July 2015 at 9:45am

      Dear Giacomo

      All ticketing discussions need to go through box office - they're open from 10am.

      Best wishes

      Ellen

  37. Julia Kneale responded on 2 July 2015 at 9:37am Reply

    At least I shall only be wasting £15 at my local Odeon if this production is as bad as it is painted. From what I have read I have gone from a sense of happy anticipation to something approaching dread. I know I must reserve judgement until I have seen this production but am I sick of operatic edginess. The ancient Greeks conveyed appalling violence to their audiences without shoving it down their throats.

  38. Simon Bostic responded on 2 July 2015 at 10:27am Reply

    There is no doubt the standard of productions has really hot a new low with Idomeneo, Ballo and now this. Holten's seemingly sole intent as he says, is the provoke thought but I would suggest he is deliberately overseeing inflammatory and non-sensical, egotistial self-serving garbage. (I did enjoy his Giovanni and Eugene Oberon however, so I am not biased against him). I think he would do well to explain the process when booking directors for discussing and moderating ideas. European audiences are NOT UK audiences and least not London or ROH audiences. Of course boundaries must be tested but repeated depictions of sex and rape do nothing to reflect on the deities of war, just glamorise it. This is why the government chooses to tell media to downplay certain events in war so as not to create the attention the perpetrators seek.
    No, I am afraid these productions are self interested and self serving with no regard for Covent Garden audiences which they stand to lose. Die Frau Ohne Schatten was a rare treat but I wonder what Mr Freud would make of some director's obsession with such unsubtle depictions of rape and child exploitation. I think Director and ROH management could do with some psycho-analysis! Shame on you, Pappano for putting your name to this dreadful PR statement.

  39. Simon Bostic responded on 2 July 2015 at 10:38am Reply

    A further thought, why is it Deborah Voigt was sent packing for being overweight and suffering from the disease of addiction yet directors who glamourise rape are welcomed with open arms?
    It seems this is arguably a blatant case of discrimination and double standards from a misogynistic male dominated management and production team.

  40. JST responded on 2 July 2015 at 10:43am Reply

    It is a shame that the attention is now on the rape scene, that Mr. Holten and the director are trying to defend. Martin is right, it was just the terrible climax of a general disastrous production that confirms yet again the declining standard of the productions at the Royal Opera House (and also elsewhere).

    In any case, the justification that is given as to why the rape scene make sense is just appalling. It sounds like a GCSE student (at best). Consistent with this sort of thinking (or not thinking), the next production of La Boheme should really have a big emphasis on the real estate market in Paris or London. A real estate opera, that sounds so interesting:

    "The production tries to convey the horrible reality of [poor people in major capitals around the world]. A tragic fact of [inequality] around the world is that [many impoverished people fail to find a decent place to live], and the director wanted to shine the spotlight on this and express disgust for such [circumstances] and any kind of [inequality].

    My conclusion can only be that the people who are directing operas, are actually not interested in music, which is a tragedy.

  41. Michael Varcos-Cocks responded on 2 July 2015 at 11:19am Reply

    The refusal to give a frank answer to the refund options simply compounds the refusal by the "troika" to understand that it was not just the appalling and yes, pace the three "wise" men (see no evil etc), gratuitous "rape" scene that caused the reaction on Monday. They even seek to pass off what to me and I guess most of the audience was brutal and violent gang rape, including the forcing of a sub machine between the victim's thighs, as mere "violence of a threatening sexual nature". What PR man thought up this appalling euphemism?
    If you accept that some audience members WILL be offended by this scene, how on earth can it be right to make them sit through it or just lose the money they paid (in good faith?) for their tickets?
    Finally, unless I have missed it, there has been a deafening silence from the "troika" about the deeply disturbing scene where children strip to their underclothes before stepping into zinc baths to be washed. Presumably there is a contextual justification similar to that for the rape scene - let's have it.
    If an offer of refunds risk loss of box office receipts - even though returns are likely to be snapped up - that would be a small price to pay for dealing honestly with the facts. If offering refunds would impinge on artistic integrity - words finally fail me,

  42. Jonathan Sutherland responded on 2 July 2015 at 11:23am Reply

    I am pleased that the ROH is standing its ground on this production. If this had been portrayed in regular theatre, there would have been barely a ripple of dissent from a perhaps more open and tolerant audience, as the arts are a vital channel in enabling us to reflect on our society and all of its glories and atrocities. We do not live in a sanitised society and it is fitting and appropriate that the ROH chooses to highlight man's inhumanity to man through the medium of opera, and is not just an expensive means of entertainment for those not wishing to have their eyes and perspectives opened. Good and relelvant work ROH!

  43. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 2 July 2015 at 11:35am Reply

    Well said Jonathan!

  44. Judith responded on 2 July 2015 at 11:35am Reply

    Dear Messrs Beard, Pappano and Holten,
    We are all adults and are aware of the 'horrible reality of warfare' and how conquering soldiers behave to local women. So was Rossini because, as you say, in the first act an elderly shepherd says that he has killed a soldier who raped his daughter. Rossini chose not to depict that rape and in Act 3 he chose not to depict a gang rape on a local woman; instead he chose to depict the soldiers humiliating the local people by forcing their women to dance for them. (That could be taken at its face value or members of the audience might see that as a metaphor for the rape of the women). That was Rossini's decision and it was not for ROH to take it further and then justify it by saying it is ' founded in the libretto of the opera' - that is being economical with the truth.

    I do not need a lesson in 'the reality of warfare' from ROH if the composer did not choose to give this lesson. Nor do I need to be told that rape is disgusting. How patronising can you be? If I wish to watch violence and murder, I can do so in my own home on the television news any day. I choose not to do so am loathe to pay for the privilege at ROH.

    That is not to say that opera should not deal with reality. But just credit your audience with some intelligence, insight and imagination and don't feel you have to put in our faces graphic depictions when disturbing themes are alluded to in operas.

    There is an important artistic reason for this. If the audience is truly shocked or revulsed by what it is seeing, it cannot pay attention to the music or sympathise with the characters because it is distracted and turning away, feeling sick and upset and so loses concentration. Messrs Beard, Pappano and Holten, you might do well to reflect on the principles of ancient Greek drama; when Oedipus stabs out his eyes we do not see this on stage with blood pouring everywhere, but it is reported and so the audience is truly moved with sympathy for him instead of being shocked and distracted by seeing him do this.

    • Jens responded on 6 July 2015 at 9:48am

      Dear Alex Beard, Antonio Pappano and Kasper Holten

      I would like to reiterate this comment. Having seen yesterday's performance, I opened the page to express and explain my concerns, not to say frustration, but this comment is spot-on. I would like to add that, because Rossini places a dance scene where you place a rape scene, the music is (semi-)joyful dance music, which increases the distress and distraction your scene causes. If you also take into account that there might be people in the audience who have experienced sexual abuse in their lives, this combination may seem particularly revolting and traumatic.

      Given libretto and music, I have to disagree with you: the scene is gratuitous and appears solely sensation-seeking, compromising significantly on the musical experience of the second part of the third act.

      In general, I feel the production compromises the musical experience at several points; this includes the dance scene of the first act, the shot, the stripping and blood in the second act and the visuals of the cartoon.

      I do hope that ROH can make sure that, in the future, producers put themselves into the background and make productions that do not dominate but value and support terrific operas for what they are.

      Thank you.

  45. Daniel Pearce responded on 2 July 2015 at 11:46am Reply

    Jonathan: "If this had been portrayed in a regular theatre ... there would have been barely a ripple". How do you know that? Are you suggesting that the moral compass, theatrical intelligence and intellectual capacity of those who attend ROH is seriously diminished in comparison to those who attend the National, RSC or Old Vic? I attend them all and am not aware that I apply different standards when moving from one to another. I am not easily shocked or resistant to challenge and innovation. I am resistant to poor stagecraft, facile direction, cliche and cheap effects. My "horror" on Monday night was prompted by the failure of quality control at ROH high allowed an ill conceived and rather tawdry effort to reach the main stage.

  46. David O'Brien responded on 2 July 2015 at 12:24pm Reply

    I find it hard to understand how Messrs Beard, Pappano and Holten can say this scene in not gratuitous. You rightly say the libretto "suggests" rape in the first scene, and the dance sequence should have an undercurrent of threat in it. Adding a character and raping her is not in the libretto and must therefore be gratuitous. After a scene like that who cares about the main roles. .we need to know that she is ok . Suddenly the opera is about her. This is not what should happen.(The furore that has erupted proves this) Taking something referred to in the libretto, but not explicitly in the action is gratuitous. I appreciate you feel under attack and have closed ranks to support this staging, but this response is not good enough.

  47. Paul Fowkes responded on 2 July 2015 at 12:47pm Reply

    David O'Brian hits the nail on the head. Like him I cared not a jot about the rest of the opera after the rape scene because my thoughts with entirely with the cast member and what she had endured. The great singing which followed seemed pitiless and irrelevant - not the reaction which, I presume, even the Director intended. So no: the crime of this production is that it detracts from our understanding and does not add to it. If by the end I care not a toss for Tell and his compatriots then something has gone seriously wrong. Come on ROH just admit you got this one wrong. We are a forgiving lot on the whole and would prefer honesty (in management and production) to an intransigent stand off which is alienating your audience just as much as the on-stage catastrophe we had to endure.

  48. Will smith responded on 2 July 2015 at 12:53pm Reply

    Well said JST. I presume that this is the last run of John Copley's "classic production" for just those reasons. The same logic applied to Cav/pag will produce another pathetic bloodbath/rape shocker I'm sure. This response both dodges the question (why was the whole production near the roh stage?) and gives a schoolboy answer to the wrong question.

    • Michael Varcoe-Cocks responded on 2 July 2015 at 2:18pm

      Will smith/JST - JST - I suspect the new Boheme will feature a dumb show before the opera starts, showing vile landlord Benoit injecting Mimi with polonium as his Russian oligarch masters wish to re-develop the site. This will be to show us the horrors of post-Soviet capitalism - it's in the libretto somewhere if you dig deep enough.

  49. Mike responded on 2 July 2015 at 3:30pm Reply

    When Kasper Holten was appointed he said that his mission was to "take the ROH audience out of its comfort zone". He has succeeded by employing a series of directors who have no more respect or liking for opera than the one who presented "La Sonnambula" at the Met as a rehearsal, and began her programme note "Even for an opera the plot of LS is extremely silly."

    The inevitable consequence of this approach is that the hired hands seek to change what was written and conceived because "it is no longer relevant" (ie an opera), and impose their own generally juvenile, clumsy, tawdry and second-rate ideas on a production to make a difference. And of course, most of them do not care in the slightest that critical and audience opinion is not on their intellectual level.

    Evidently neither do the management, who based on an immensely patronising ROH discussion earlier in the year "Why don't they leave opera alone?"- featuring a group of luvvies who probably have never paid for an opera ticket in their lives - have absolutely no idea what's going to be presented to them until it's a fait accompli. In other words, the ROH brand and artistic standards are contracted out and not responsibly managed at all, because "directors have to be given their head and supported".

    So now presumably we can look forward to "La Boheme" set in a SE London high-rise crack den, and "Cav & Pag" God knows where - but priced of course at £250 for the best tickets. Sure to sell out? Or will these need warnings to the public as well?

    The management question for the ROH has to be - what would they recognise as failure or a mistake? Or don't these concepts ever enter into their thinking? The evidence of recent years suggests the latter - in which case they are riding for a fall. Some of us have to pay for our tickets.

  50. Nicolas Zeifman responded on 2 July 2015 at 3:37pm Reply

    I haven't seen the production yet (Sunday, unless I decide to return my ticket), but instead of patronisingly assuming the audience needs to be reminded that rape exists in what is apparently a rather graphic manner and judging them unsophisticated (an echo of remarks apparently previously uttered by Mr Holten), maybe the powers that be should remember who their audience is and that they are the ones paying, if the performances you provide are persistently judged unsatisfying, the issue doesn't come from the audience. You've already had to massively discount the recent Don Giovanni run, how many more loss-making productions before you accept that the audience knows what they like and that maybe you should sell something people want to buy?

  51. Michael Normington responded on 2 July 2015 at 4:30pm Reply

    Martin Dodsworth has hit the nail on the head. I was there on Monday night, and the 'rape' scene was simply the final straw for most of the objectors. There are subtle ways of portraying rape but we, of course, have to have it rammed down our throats, if you will pardon the expression, otherwise we will not understand what is going on.

    But it is not just this particular production. For me, Don Giovanni and Eugene Onegin are now no-go areas at the ROH. I have no objections to being 'challenged', but I do object to having my intelligence insulted.

    I was challenged, recently, to write a verse for a Gilbert 'Little List' and I came up with the following:

    "... and opera directors who dish up a crashing bore, with no love at all for opera, and no knowledge of the score ..."

    Not too far away from where things now are, then.

    Incidentally, I still think that the finest production I have seen is the Peter Sellars Theodora at Glyndebourne, so there is no writing me off as a fuddy-duddy from the age of Queen Victoria!

  52. C. Maeder responded on 2 July 2015 at 5:05pm Reply

    If you what to calm down go on You Tube and watch "I Capuleti e I Montecchi " by Bellini. Minimal sets and production by Robert Carsen, with Anna Netrebko and Joyce Di Donato. No booing there, it was taken in Paris in 2008.

  53. Stef responded on 2 July 2015 at 5:21pm Reply

    I saw all ROH productions of the past 3 years and I can say for sure that there were a few really dull ones: I remember a horrible Maria Stuarda, an unbearable Idomeneo and a dead boring Don Giovanni just to name the worst ones. How come these productions were not booed? Because there was no rape scene. Translation: it is not a matter of good or bad stage direction but it is simply the word SEX which is still regarded as unacceptable in 2015. Shame on the ROH audience members for being so narrow-minded.

    • Nicolas Zeifman responded on 2 July 2015 at 5:36pm

      Stef: I'm fairly confident all these productions (and quite a few more) were copiously booed on their first nights (among the ones left out Rusalka, La Donna del Lago, and Eugene Onegin come to mind). And thinking about it, the addition of rape in the production is starting to be as unimaginative as the style of production proponents of modernism advocate, just by memory there was rape in Rusalka (then played for laugh), La Donna del Lago, and Les Vepres Siciliennes. I'm probably forgetting a couple (I've tended to leave most new productions at the interval lately).

    • Giacomo responded on 2 July 2015 at 5:44pm

      Stef, Maria Stuarda was booed. Translation: you are wrong.

      I think the rape scene at GT was just breaking point after a long time of failing to listen to polite complaints.

    • Bill Worley responded on 3 July 2015 at 1:37pm

      Stef- I was at the first nights of Idomeneo , Maria Stuarda and Don Giovanni and I can assure you they were all booed loudly. the difference with these productions was that the audience waited until the Production Team came on at the end.

  54. Richard responded on 2 July 2015 at 5:27pm Reply

    Having had to put up with Opera Holland Park's ridiculous take on Aida I decided one new production was enough in the space of less than a week and didn't attend the opening night of Guillaume Tell. In any event, I am sick to death of being lectured and patronised by "exciting" new/young directors who haven't got a clue and seem not to be remotely in tune with the work they are directing. If they have no sympathy for a particular opera why take the job on to start with?

    In today's The Times Mr Michieletto is quoted as saying to an Italian newspaper that he has not worked in London before and does not know the audience and that audiences in Berlin are more open to new ideas. Well, he knows the London audience now and if we are not to his liking there will always be plenty of work in Berlin for him.

    As for his forthcoming Cav & Pag at the ROH, be warned that it is "set in the 1980s in a poverty-stricken village in southern Italy where the Mafia has a hold," This is a direct quote from The Friends Season Guide for 2015/16. God knows how the Mafia will be worked into one or both of these pieces and in any event were there still travelling commedia dell'arte troupes (as required for Pagliacci) in southern Italy in the 1980s? How will that be handled? Oh dear, I fear the worst!

  55. Tom Adams responded on 2 July 2015 at 5:35pm Reply

    Stef: first rape has nothing to do with sex. Second this is the kind of unintelligent contribution which makes the defence of this production so hard to sustain. Thanks.

  56. S das Neves Pedro responded on 2 July 2015 at 6:29pm Reply

    Stef: rape is a vile and horrific act of unforgivable violence against another person it has little to do with sex.
    So, every night until this production finally grinds to a halt one young female actor is going to be groped and molested by a group of men for the prurient entertainment/interest of an audience in the name of what - art?

  57. Stef responded on 2 July 2015 at 6:54pm Reply

    Tom Adams: rape was well within the context and, although (deliberately) disturbing, for sure made sense as Pappano and Holten pointed out. If you don't like it please get your refund and go and see the phantom of the opera. What you write simply confirms my points. Some people still live in the 19th century.

  58. Stef responded on 2 July 2015 at 6:55pm Reply

    Giacomo, Maria Stuarda was booed but for sure not as much as GT.

  59. Jules Callaghan responded on 2 July 2015 at 7:06pm Reply

    The assumption behind a naked actress being used to depict a rape scene live on stage, is that without it we the audience would be less aware of the horror of the violence that can be inflicted on women in wartime.
    Why is it that the "artists" in this case believe that "we" have no imagination? Are our minds supposed to be so dull that "they" need to enlighten "us"?
    It is the sort of scene that would play in pornographic films.
    What a scar on our venerable and beloved ROH. Heartbroken.

  60. Alison Pedley responded on 2 July 2015 at 7:51pm Reply

    I go to the opera to be entertained, moved, encouraged to think and to an extent challenged. I do not go to be offended, distressed and horrified. Equally I do not need to be lectured by a director on how I should respond to what is being presented. I am offended by the remarks made in the Rimes today describing the London audiences as antediluvian and unaccepting of "new" ideas. Has this young gun no concept of how offensive such scenes of violence are? There are ways of making an audience think and be disturbed (if that is the objective) without pushing offence in their faces - that is clever direction not bullying. I had tickets for Sunday but have returned/exchanged them. I do not wish to pay £400 pounds to be told what I should think or accept. I am sure the opera house audience is well aware of the brutality of war and occupation, they are not stupid or unaware. I think Kasper Holten and his commissioning committee need to take note of the people who actually fund and support their productions. I have been a Friend for many years and have supported many controversial productions opera and ballet but this is a step too far.

  61. Alex E. responded on 2 July 2015 at 8:06pm Reply

    I find myself thinking back to the very beginning of the production, where the ill-conceived and clumsily executed projection cut across the beautifully played overture and spoiled (at least for me) one of the most precious tunes in the history of music. Don't you think that the kid in the projection (Jemmy-to-be) is a great portrait of the Director himself? Playing with his toys until he is bored stiff, all the while completely ignoring the beautiful music, his surroundings, and the audience - this sounds about right to me. In Mr. Michieletto's case the toys happen to be the great soloists, the expensive props and the whole company of the ROH, and the very considerable cost of this enjoyment has to be borne by the paying audience and by philanthropists supporting the House - but who cares, right? an opportunity to get distinguished singers to wallow in "earth" pig-like and smear blood all over themselves is simply too much fun to miss.

    PS. I am grateful to many of the participants of this blog - Martin Dodsworth, Anastasia, Tony Watts, Will smith, William Russell, JST, to name but a few - for expressing their views; I was wondering if by calling this production "an unmitigated disaster" in Sarah Hibberd's "Join the Conversation" blog I somehow ended up in the "prude and conservative " minority (to quote from another review). Now I know that I am in good company!

  62. John Holt responded on 2 July 2015 at 8:18pm Reply

    I have not seen this production, and in view of what it contains I have no intention of seeing it. I understand that the scene does not actually appear in the original opera, I wonder, therefore, how the decision was made to add it. I consider such action to be completely wrong. The opera should be as intended by the composer.

  63. David Gifford responded on 2 July 2015 at 8:35pm Reply

    Since the director (and / or Pappano, presumably) chose to leave in the ballet music, wouldn't it have been a bolder, and probably more successful, decision to have choreographed it? Someone like Hofesh Schecter or Javier de Frutos might have enjoyed the challenge. By costuming the male dancers as soldiers, the idea of women being forced to dance for their captors, as it says in the libretto, would have translated well into dance - and it would have honoured Rossini's intentions.

  64. Alex E. responded on 2 July 2015 at 8:42pm Reply

    Michael Normington: a suggestion for your "Little List" verse, if I may:
    "... and opera directors, shocking us with blood and gore, who try to modernise productions knowing nothing of the score"

  65. Genevieve Marcus responded on 2 July 2015 at 8:53pm Reply

    As some have suggested, this production
    Was not a play or a newscast. It was OPERA! Plays existed for many years
    Before opera. Opera differs in that it is the
    Depiction of human events and emotions
    Through the musical interpretations of
    Various composers. They are set works of
    Art in the classical repertoire. That is why
    I object to reframing them in modern terms
    Except as interesting experiments; but
    Never replacements. To me, the production
    Values are secondary (bad productions happen) to the undermining of the aesthetic
    Identity of the work. If Michiolette wants to
    Create a new type of opera as an educational or social-change form, let him write new operas.

  66. Emeritus Professor Audrey Mullender responded on 2 July 2015 at 9:16pm Reply

    The offending scene should be cut out of this production NOW and certainly before the live screening on Sunday. Unless the ROH is going to pay cinemas everywhere to employ counsellors to support abuse survivors who may experience flashbacks as a result of watching this, the warning/rating that cinemas are carrying goes nowhere near notifying people in sufficient detail what to expect. The same goes for families with children who may go along thinking that William Tell is a familiar childhood tale and hence suitable viewing. After all, there is a desperate need to attract younger viewers to the opera, such as you see at the ballet, or there will be no opera at all to argue over in the future. Including scenes that degrade the performer, the audience and women in general is the kind of publicity opera does not need. I am already staying away from Welsh National Opera because of content in their recent Manon. Now the ROH looks like going the same way!

    • Ellen West (Head of Product Management) responded on 3 July 2015 at 10:31am

      Dear Professor Mullender

      Thank you for your message. We have now written to all ticket holders for Guillaume Tell at the Royal Opera House to advise them of the content of this production. Cinemas are communicating directly with their audience and nobody aged under 15 will now be able to watch the screening. We believe that any audience members who wish to avoid content of this nature will now have had the chance to revise their plans.

      Best wishes

      Ellen

  67. Terry Osborne responded on 2 July 2015 at 9:34pm Reply

    Stef, Indomeneo was booed, Maria Stuarda was booed, Manon Lescaut was booed. All were crass productions that had nothing to do with the music and everything to do with the director's puerile ideas and Kasper Holten's delusion that audiences need to be "challenged". It was not "sex" that triggered booing, just appallingly bad productions. I cannot remember any other period in the ROH's recent history where a string of new productions have been booed in this way. The ROH can only get away with this because of its huge Arts Council Grant.

    • Stef responded on 3 July 2015 at 10:52am

      Terry Osborne, I went to all the performances that you listed but never experienced what happened on 29th June when the opening performance of Tell was nearly interrupted by boos and shouted insults / comments while the orchestra was playing. And when did it happen? During the controvertial rape scene. A coincidence? Oh please....the truth is that such boos had nothing to do with the overall quality of the production but were simply related to THAT particular scene that for some bizarre reason these people found gratuitous whereas in fact it perfectly made sense without distorting the plot.

  68. Philip Sides responded on 2 July 2015 at 10:20pm Reply

    Loyal patrons of the ROH are clearly fed up with Mr Holten's leadership of opera here. It's time for him to go and for the ROH to consider carefully its audience and his replacement. Perhaps then we will be able to look forward to new productions rather than approach them with complete and utter dread.

  69. Stef responded on 3 July 2015 at 12:29am Reply

    Giacomo: moreover, booing during the performance never happened before. This is simply rude and disrespectful towards other audience members as well as the artists on stage. Unacceptable.

    • Giacomo responded on 3 July 2015 at 10:30am

      Stef: Booing is "rude and disrespectful" but what we saw on stage wasn't? Good grief. The intention is to send a message to those on stage - more precisely in seat K6 stalls.

    • Francois Girardot responded on 3 July 2015 at 11:16am

      I don't understand people booing during a performance. Nor do I understand people clapping after every aria (like yesterday at ROH!). There are intermissions and curtain calls for that. Not only I think you have to judge a performance in its entirety but personally when I experience art, I hate being disturbed by the rest of the audience, it brings me back to mundane reality and breaks my flow. I paid my ticket too and not for an interactive experience. Seriously I've been to hundreds of times and I'm so tired of audience interferences: booing, clapping, coughing (in July?!?), clearing throats, plastic bag, jewelry jingling, yawing etc. What is so difficult in staying still: shut up and listen!

    • e thompson responded on 9 July 2015 at 5:42pm

      then, Stef,
      were you there on the 29th June?
      I still have my heart racing with horror when I remember the production. The booing I heard there is my only consolation.

  70. poyu responded on 3 July 2015 at 1:02am Reply

    I saw the opera today. I was expecting that the 'rape scene' gonna to be very bold and rough after reading all the discussion here and elsewhere... But when I saw it my feeling was 'that's it? why the fuss?'
    This scene was not even in the top three poorest taste designs of tonight. At least it kind of makes sense in the story line. There are many awful problems in this production, but rape scene is not the big one, if it is a problem at all.

    Something that I don't understand in the discussion:
    Rape has nothing to do with sex, really? OK, if I try to guess what you mean... rape scene is a different kind of sex scene; it is much more offensive.
    More offensive than what? the penis-showing Rigoletto?

  71. poyu responded on 3 July 2015 at 1:17am Reply

    (following the previous comment. I mistakenly clicked send.)
    Rigoletto and Faust have orgy, but they are fine compared with the non-sense ugly blood covered nudity+sex ballet in AIda. Did we have so much trouble on those opera?
    Yeah, Stef was being inaccurate, it's not just because of SEX, it is because RAPE. You can have sex scene, you can have violence scene, but you can't have them together, that's so against Londoners' modern moral standard.

    A final word: I don't know how parents in this country want to protect their kids, but to make sure kids are all properly covered from bad things, opera house is not a good place to go, probably stick with Zauberflote and Hansel und Gretel?
    At least, choose a shorter opera, kids wouldn't like a French 4 acts opera that starts at 6pm and finish at 10:30pm.

  72. Martin Spiro responded on 3 July 2015 at 9:38am Reply

    Saw last night's performance July 2nd. Great production and singing. Fantasy, irony, humour, topical reference and great imagination. Singing mostly wonderful, top notes head voice the lot. The controversial scene would not raise a ripple on tv. No protests only prolonged curtain calls.

  73. Judith H responded on 3 July 2015 at 9:45am Reply

    I saw this production last night. To be honest, after all the fuss, I wondered if the rape scene had been toned down; I was expecting much worse. There were many poor elements in this production, and I can only endorse what many people have already said about that. I suspect that a lot of the booing stemmed from frustration that we are being subjected to so many poor, heavy-handed productions and this was yet another. I already have tickets for Cav and Pag, so am wondering what we are going to be subjected to!
    What few have mentioned is that the music and performances were wonderful.

  74. Margaret Grant responded on 3 July 2015 at 11:11am Reply

    Saw WT last night. The only printable comment on the production I can make is "expletive deleted". It had little connection with the dialogue and most of the time none at all with the music (e.g. the ballet music in Act I). As for the violence etc, it seems as if the director thinks a modern audience needs something like CNN News in order to comprehend what was going on - everything in block capitals, emboldened and underlined. Geddit? As for the rape scene, by that time I couldn't have cared less.

    Wonderful music. Probably best to listen to the broadcast.

    I had already been thinking of terminating my Friends membership, mainly for reasons other than the recent productions; but the "warning" email to ticket holders had the misfortune to arrive at the same time as my renewal notice - which I tore up on the spot.

  75. Loge responded on 3 July 2015 at 11:30am Reply

    The overall quality of any production can be discussed and debated. This is perfectly acceptable. Damiano Michieletto is currently the most popular opera director in the world but this does not mean that everything he does is great. What is stupid and rude is booing and shouting DURING the performance simply because you don't like a crude rape scene which is in fact well within the context. This is just a prudish reaction which is very hard to accept.

  76. Ashley Allen responded on 3 July 2015 at 12:11pm Reply

    I have been going to ROH for the best part of 45 years and cannot believe that the powers to be at the House would have studied, considered, opted and paid for such a pompously ludicrous staging of one of Rossini's greatest operas. Dining tables and chairs in a sandpit, some "phantom" Robin Hood character carrying arrows with suckers on and soldiers with AK rifles raping and pillaging as they go. Absolute rubbish. Kasper Holten should be ashamed of himself and the sooner he goes the better as far as I am concerned. The quality of new productions at the ROH has plummeted downhill over the last few years since he arrived and here we have another prize turkey for the collection. The sooner it is roasted, carved up and eaten ..the better. My beloved Rossini would turn in his grave at the sight of this train wreck. A very disappointing evening. Congratulations ROH in the space of 4 hours..no even less...you managed to destroy one of the greatest bel canto operas in the repertoire. You had better make sure that the forthcoming Cav & Pag does not end up with a similar fate.

  77. Tom Adams responded on 3 July 2015 at 12:47pm Reply

    I think most will agree (pace Stef - try education: it works for some) that rape is not about sex but about the abuse of power; more often than not the power of men over women. By asking an actress (who probably has little choice if she wants to make a career) to undertake this ordeal on serial occasions, is he not as a Director guilty of a crime similar to that he claims he wants us to condemn. This will be lost on you Stef - but then you are probably deep in Magazines

  78. Mike Udal responded on 3 July 2015 at 1:07pm Reply

    Having listened to an excellent performance of William Tell conducted by maestro Pappano in 2011 I was really looking forward to this. From the comments, I think this may be another visit to Covent Garden when I will keep my eyes closed and enjoy the music. The awful cliché of the fits-all fascist state and men in grey suits appears all too often (Poliuto at Glyndebourne last month): I crave more directorial imagination.

    The cast in the 2011 performance were in modern dress and moved economically on stage - no worry about the direction.
    Where did I see it? Semi-staged at the BBC Proms.

  79. Damian responded on 3 July 2015 at 1:27pm Reply

    I saw the production yesterday.

    It struck me that the scene in question could, possibly, have been dramatically justified because of the Act I scene where Leuthold kills an Austrian soldier who tries to molest his daughter. However, it didn't work at all in the middle of Act III, either in terms of the drama or, more importantly, the music.

    "Guillaume Tell" is notable for several passages of sustained orchestral music. What irritated me about the whole production (other than several moments when cast and orchestra came apart in tempo) was the need to fill these interludes with something - anything, indeed - to watch: a film of toy soldiers, the molestation of a woman, the bathing of several children, the flicking pages of a comic book.

    For me, yesterday's production was not opera. It was much more television: a continual visual bombardment that distracted from the music.

    I used to think that opera directors were insulting the intelligence of the audience by always making sure "that they have something to watch". But maybe directors are simply bored with the whole business of directing and can only amuse themselves by chasing the glib and the outrageous.

    • F Hoare responded on 4 July 2015 at 6:22pm

      I was in the Amphitheatre on Monday and wished I had not been. One thing i'm pretty sure about is that none of our criticisms will be read by the Director or the production team. I certainly will not be renewing my membership and perhaps the Arts Council will think twice about its future funding.

  80. Stef responded on 3 July 2015 at 5:41pm Reply

    The funny thing is that all these reactionary comments are increasing Mr Michieletto's popularity worldwide. Considering he's already one of the most sough-after opera directors in the world, this Guillaume Tell will do the job for him. I read a few interviews in some Italian newspapers: among other comments he focuses on Schiller's play as being much more violent than his depiction. You may love or hate this production but I can say that in my opinion it respects the spirit of the opera, unlike other bad examples. And if some people feel disturbed by a short rape scene, well, this is theatre after all but the good news is that they can save their money and listen to some wonderful recordings of Guillaume Tell sitting on their couches while imagining whatever you like. It would be nice to avoid interrupting performances in the future and keep the boos for the curtain call. This is more civilized after all.

    • Ellen Parry responded on 4 July 2015 at 1:28am

      Stef: So Mr Michieletto is much "sought after" all over Europe. Pleased to hear it. Good luck INTERPOL I say.

  81. Alex E. responded on 3 July 2015 at 5:49pm Reply

    Damian: spot on! This production is yet another step away from the form of art that we known as "opera". More like a comic book than TV perhaps - garish, disjointed, overcrowded, in your face attention-grabbing - but sold to us by the ROH as "Great Modern Literature". Why do they think that this is what the audience needs? Or is it that they think that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and therefore the more they make us cringe - the better?

  82. D Conley responded on 3 July 2015 at 6:30pm Reply

    I find it very difficult to understand how many respondents in this commentary can offer such facile explanations for the 'rape' scene being acceptable in the context or the audiences having problems with the subject of 'sex'. The real context and what started the debate was the long drawn out sexual exploitation of the female actor and the directors misconception that people will think more about the reality of war. I think what this debate has really done is it has exposed the male directors to accusations of sexism and misogyny more than anything and if this is the case then all to the good.

  83. Polly Ainsley responded on 3 July 2015 at 9:55pm Reply

    A question to those who attended the second night and felt that the comments after the first night had led you to "expect far worse". Assuming that the gang rape was staged in exactly the same fashion: what had you expected that COULD HAVE BEEN worse? Perhaps the poor unfortunate woman's vagina projected on to the big screen before during and after? Really was it so tame that you were disappointed? Shame on you if the failure or otherwise of this one scene to meet with your expectations was the benchmark by which you judged the merits of this dreadful piece of (non) theatre.

  84. Simon Carbery responded on 4 July 2015 at 8:58am Reply

    I've already posted on the discussion forum, but although I wasn't, frankly, blown away by the production, the 'rape' scene seemed to me to be a perfectly valid creative choice, with some powerful acting conveying the psychology of both perpetrators and victims in these awful events. In a show full of overly-signalled messages and symbolism, this was one of the few really emotionally engaging moments. As far as the shock-horror aspects of it are concerned, It was far from graphic, and in the context of live theatre elsewhere, TV after 9pm, and the ROH's own Rigoletto production (for example), it was, graphically at least, pretty mild stuff. So why there's been such a brouhaha, not to mention an unprecedented 1000 apologia from Covent Garden, baffles me.

  85. John Assirati responded on 4 July 2015 at 9:31am Reply

    I couldn't care less about the alleged exploitation of the female actor, it is her decision to play the part. God forbid that along with everything else that is wrong with this production we have to submit to revisionist feminist perspectives. Operas are products of history when women were often exploited by men, we can't alter that fact.

  86. John Assirati responded on 4 July 2015 at 9:51am Reply

    I would add that I think there is a stronger case for objecting to the exploitation of young children in a state of undress in Act 4 as there is no dramatic excuse whatever. Indeed I believe that the director was in effect using these children as a human shield.

  87. Bruce V responded on 4 July 2015 at 10:14am Reply

    I recall two films of the early 70's that had similar scenes for the purpose described by ROH here. In both cases the public were sickened by the scenes, which was precisely the desired effect. They displayed the horror and inhumanity of rape and left the viewer with a memory of the horror. In my view neither were gratuitous and both were necessary. I booked my cinema ticket for GT some time ago and am looking forward to seeing the entire production.

  88. Douglas responded on 4 July 2015 at 12:20pm Reply

    Simon: you ask a valid question to which I think there is a valid answer. For me (and I suspect many others) the rape scene was an object of derision and anger not because it was a rape scene per se (there are arguments of principle perhaps but I am not persuaded this is a no go area on stage) nor because it was particularly badly acted; rather because our lack of commitment to the production by this stage (let's face it this was a dull dog of a production) meant that we weren't sufficiently involved in the drama to be moved by the character's plight. This has been better explained by others but my own reaction was that it was a prolonged humiliation of a real person (ie the actress) not a startlingly moving piece of theatre. For this reason I did not like it though I have no feeling of principle that opera should "never go there". I think a better production and a better director could have used this very powerfully. Mr Michieletto just wasn't up to it.

  89. John Assirati responded on 4 July 2015 at 1:09pm Reply

    This production should not be filmed.

  90. Mike Wright responded on 4 July 2015 at 1:39pm Reply

    I thought the production was intelligent, nuanced, beautifully acted, carefully paced and very moving. Much of what we now know about war and occupation (disturbed family life, the widespread existence of rape) was shown, and I think this was the right decision for the work and for an audience of today. The only thing that truly offended me was the bullying and agressive behaviour of the men in the audience who booed. I'm pleased that Alex Beard, Antonio Pappano and Kasper Holten are standing by the work of a very talented director and I look forward to seeing his production of Cav & Pag.

  91. susan responded on 4 July 2015 at 9:20pm Reply

    A tone deaf statement from an organization supposedly dedicated to music. "We want to assure you that the public reaction to this scene has been of great concern to us", " your concerns have made a deep impact on us", and of course, "we take it very seriously" - so we're going to issue a warning about violence of a threatening sexual nature (as opposed to violence of a non-threatening sexual nature?). The warning that should be issued about this production is that it is a work of a director with no imagination and is generally offensive to anyone with a brain, much less a love of opera.

    The troika maintain the problem isn't with the production, but with some members of the audience whose sensibilities are too fragile or intelligence too limited to understand what the great director is trying to achieve. You see, GT is a work about warfare and oppression - who knew!
    The problem here is not with the sensibilities or imagination of the audience, but the director who cannot achieve what great art does - evoke emotion and understanding through metaphor and suggestion - otherwise its the news.

    I suppose its to be expected that Holten would defend this dreadful production, but I am disappointed that Pappano, a conductor whose talent and work I admire greatly would sign his name to this codswallop.

    With regard to the beloved gang rape scene (not a hair on its head is to be harmed!), the obligatory reference in the libretto, however minor and oblique, is unearthed to justify the latest directorial excess that needs to be explained/excused. Its unfortunate that the troika defending the male director are all male, as are most of the scene's online defenders. Most women don't need an explicit gang rape scene complete with nudity and whimpering to understand the "horror and inhumanity" of violence against women or its terrible consequences. I guess we really haven't come a very long way, have we. Of course there's another "tragic fact" - its not just in wars that women are sexually attacked and violated around the world. Perhaps a gang rape could be worked into La Boheme to show how indefensible peacetime violence against women and how disgusted the ROH is by it. I'm sure if one looks hard enough a reference in the libretto to justify it could be found. (Although I fear this has already been done by some other male director.)

    The capper to the release is the "We do hope that our production of Guillaume Tell will still make a strong impression in a good way." Martha Stewart, did you consult on this statement?

    By refusing to acknowledge in any way the very real concerns its audience have about the quality of recent productions, of which this GT is simply the most egregious, the ROH is adding insult to injury. The ROH audience are music lovers who welcome daring and innovative interpretations and productions. Yet this ROH statement is utterly contemptuous of their audience, without whom they would not exist.

  92. John Assirati responded on 5 July 2015 at 7:31am Reply

    Mike, hundreds of the audience booed, both men and women, It was a woman who cried out 'shame on you Tony'. Some thought that the scene was a metaphor for the opera being raped and the audience being violated.

  93. Mark S responded on 5 July 2015 at 11:08am Reply

    Aside from the last comment, I find all of this depressing and I do think that it says something about ROH audiences.

    I was there at the first night and was hugely angered by the booing during the music - just because you don't like it, isn't a reason for spoiling it for others who might be more open-minded. Boo as much as you like at the end, but not while the music's going on. Interesting also that booing always comes from the cheapest seats and I'm not sure what that says.

    I thought the production was intelligent and thoughtful. It wasn't perfect and there were things which didn't quite work but that will happen for as long as human beings perform opera. I thought that the rape scene was one of the things which made the third act finale work incredibly well - it brought an intensity to the following scenes and involved you in the horror that Tell has to overcome. In an opera that is partly about how you deal with tyranny when it is easiest just to sit back and go to bed with the enemy, I didn't think it was inappropriate. Indeed, I think the reaction from the audience was of intense discomfort because it was done so well.

    I don't buy this "what the composer intended" argument. We can only know part of their intentions and we certainly don't know what Rossini would have written had he been composing now. Every singer and every production will bring something different to the opera which the composer may or may not like or wish that they had thought of. I don't want opera to be a museum where the experience is safe and the same every time you go and, personally, I hate the way the reviewers and some parts of the audience simply don't try to engage with what the director's doing.

    However, it takes all sorts and, with any luck, these people won't come to Cav and Pag, which I'm rather looking forward to. I wish I'd booked for the first night.

    • Simon Carbery responded on 5 July 2015 at 2:59pm

      Mark S, well said.

    • Richard responded on 5 July 2015 at 4:34pm

      So " the booing ALWAYS (my Caps) comes from the cheapest seats" does it? May be that's because the patrons in the Amphi are more aware both musically and aesthetically as to what's good and bad and are looking for value for money (which doesn't mean only wanting something safe), not pretentious rubbish, given the prices up there these days. But, as you very patronisingly acknowledge, it takes all sorts.

  94. Stevie responded on 5 July 2015 at 11:52am Reply

    I don't know what is happening with the rapidly deteriorating management of the ROH. Just the latest of a strange happenings by this company. Not my idea of entertainment I am afraid, designed to shock rather than enjoy. We are all well enough of horrors in the world without someone wishing to re-enact them on stage for public pleasure. I am off to try and get my money back and will concentrate my bookings elsewhere in future.

  95. Simon Carbery responded on 5 July 2015 at 12:47pm Reply

    The Observer suggests today that the thursday 2nd July production showed a watered down version of the 'rape' scene. People have cried out for warnings before seeing the show; but where are the warnings that, if The Observer is correct, I would be seeing a bowdlerised version of the production I paid £165 to see?

  96. Robert Wharton responded on 5 July 2015 at 8:17pm Reply

    So Tony, not the triumph you were hoping for after so many years of preparation. So Kasper not the revival of a flagging reputation you desperately needed. So Alex, not the leap into the brave new ROH era you must have craved. Looks like Rossini has had the last laugh. Wily old fellow: he's done for you all.

    • Roy Hiscock responded on 7 July 2015 at 5:41pm

      While I appreciate that there must be a corporate response if a production once staged attracts particular hostility, an obvious (and serious) question arises from Robert Wharton's comment: does either the Music Director or the Director of Opera (and I'm thinking of the posts rather than the post-holders) have a veto when preparing a production (or revival of a production)? There are, presumably, differences of opinion (at least, I hope that there are, otherwise the place would be artistically dead) - but who has the final say (if either)? For example, is the edition of a particular work (and any cuts made thereto) ultimately the responsibility of the MD and, within that, what happens on stage solely up to the DO?

  97. M Vaughan responded on 6 July 2015 at 12:17pm Reply

    I booked for this long before the furore and probably like many others I wanted to see and hear a more obscure piece by Rossini. I’ve seen and heard it - absolutely fabulous! I was not disappointed
    I have criticised the chorus many times in the past for being lazy. but not in this opera; they were superb they even acted! In my opinion, the rape scene (revamped) fitted into the context of the dreadful behaviour of conquerers in modern warfare -complete humiliation. I believe very few of us DO understand let alone KNOW the impact of rape on the vanquished. Well done RoH

  98. We were informed that the ROH has 'toned down' the scene, just in time for the matinee cinema screenings of the opera all across the UK. It would be good if the ROH could post this latest information here. Thank you for having the strength to truly listen to the concerns of the public and human right advocates. And now the 'take home message' could finally be, as surely intended, the widespread use of rape in war - rather than being caught up in a furore over 'cheap sensationalism' and over providing inappropriate material with inadequate warnings - potentially to children and certainly to the many women in the audience who will have been experienced assault (1 in 3 women in the UK). Thank you

  99. Stephen Diviani responded on 7 July 2015 at 11:01am Reply

    Having booked tickets to see William Tell for myself & for my two young boys, aged 7 & 8, imagine how I felt when I discovered there was a rape scene! No mention was made of this when I booked. May I suggest that your box office staff undergo training so that they are sensitive to the needs of parents. Mr Holten obviously isn't a dad, if he thinks very young children aren't going be distressed watching a rape. You might also mention that the show lasts more five hours - you try keeping children quiet for that long! I assumed it would be the same length as the Lion King, which we saw & thoroughly enjoyed earlier in the year as a Christmas treat. Thank heaven, the producers of that show didn't think it necessary to include adult themes. Come on the Royal Opera House act responsibly and think about the children in the audience.

  100. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 7 July 2015 at 7:55pm Reply

    Gentlemen, very many thanks for taking the time and trouble to write as you have done. My wife and I saw the performance on Sunday and we thought it was absolutely fantastic .Musically and dramatically ,this production is a masterpiece. You can be very proud of it and the sheer talent of all involved..
    Without being in any way fulsome, you provide a splendid triumvirate and let us hope you so continue for many more exciting ROH seasons.
    My own background is irrelevant but for any of your unkind critics who may read this ,I write as a senior citizen who has been studying and enjoying performances of opera since the late 1950's and who over the years has been privileged to be involved with a leading opera company (with insight into the staging of productions ) as well as a semi professional actor and theatre director.

  101. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 7 July 2015 at 8:02pm Reply

    I should add that I shall shortly be discussing my enthusiasm for this production in more detail via the blog Guillaume Tell. Join the conversation

  102. Mark responded on 10 July 2015 at 2:05pm Reply

    Can't believe someone complaining about the length and the impact of the length on their children of 7 and 8. It's not the Lion King and if length is a concern then it's not difficult to pick up a book and see how long the acts are.

  103. Gerald responded on 15 July 2015 at 9:29am Reply

    Of course you all have to stick up for the production. However, to state that the scene in question is justified is disingenuous; it is distatsteful but, more importantly, fully in keeping with the director's 'concept' which rides fairly heavily across what is actually in the opera's structure and focus. The programme note by Sarah Hibberd concerning the production reads as a rather desperate justification for ignoring Rossini - thus we do not have a hunting chorus but a pack of paramilitaries in Act II and to state that dance has been excised because it is irrelevant shows deep ignorance of opera in the 1820s. To show the humiliation of. woman to such music is deliberately to ignore the implicit tensions of the Swiss being forced to celebrate Austrain control by being made to dance at Gessler's celebrations.
    The director clearly has his (misguided) concept and deliberately ignores what is going on in the music at times. It is Director's opera pure and simple, and marks a further slip at Covent Garden into such a world. The Director of Opera's own two productions of main repertoire works mean that I will not see them at the Opera House until they are replaced. Tell is not that bad thanks to superlative musical standards, but the irony is that we usher in Michieletto, breathlessly hailed by the CG management as a great talent while witnessing the final performances of John Copley's La Bohème, a testament to a director who understands opera and has always worked with humility and respect with regards to the composer. Michieletto, Holten and all the fashionable names being brought in currently are sadly lacking in those particular attributes.

  104. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 16 July 2015 at 8:01pm Reply

    With respect, Sarah Hibberd's excellent article is in no way " a rather desperate justification .etc " any more than Signor Michieletto 's outstanding production is misguided and a case of "Director's opera pure and simple" .I have already commented in detail under the blog "Guillaume Tell. Join the Conversation, but will repeat here that it is clear from my reflecting on both the libretto and Schiller's text that Signor Michieletto very clearly understands the opera and has given us a production to treasure .His own schedule for this year and next shows that his talents are very much in demand. He and Kasper Holten are directors who understand both opera and theatre and show with fantastic skill how they may be staged in this generation.
    There is room in the operatic world for their unquestionable talents as well as those of John Copley

  105. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 17 July 2015 at 7:23pm Reply

    Gentlemen, might I please add that I hope will not be too long before the DVD of this production is available. It will bring back many splendid memories and inform generations to come of an operatic event to be treasured .
    Once more -bravo !

  106. Charles Blom responded on 21 July 2015 at 10:57pm Reply

    Having read all these articles, I was prepared to see a poor opera last Friday. It was even worse than I could ever have imagined. I had seen the opera before and I love the music. I found this production however utterly poor, silly, boring and very distracting. In an opera the story is told by the music and the visuals should be a support. In this production so much happens on stage that has no relation to the music at all. There were many silly things which I found very distracting and they made it hard to follow the music, let alone to enjoy it. I find the rape scene disgusting. It is rape set to music, turning rape into a ballet. We have already crime entertainment like “Murder she wrote” and now we also have “Rape he wrote” (by Damiano Michieletto). How low has ROH sunk? Living in the Netherlands, I have to spend a lot of money to visit the ROH. I have seen so many disappointing productions the past few years that I will not visit any new production until I hear about them from my friends.

  107. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 23 July 2015 at 7:27pm Reply

    Mr Blom is entitled to his view, but I think ,with respect, he will find that many of us consider this a production any opera house could (and should ) be proud of .What fantastic vision and talent from all concerned.

    • Ronald Bezubka responded on 24 July 2015 at 7:06pm

      Mr Boyd-Williams is entitled to his opinion as well, but I seriously doubt that he is in the majority. He is part of the new elite at Covent Garden - all those people who love off the wall productions and clamour for them. How depressing! Mr Blom and I are completely capable of discerning the deeper meaning of an operatic text for ourselves without being lectured and hectored by a producer with sick fantasies.
      We applauded no one in the cast because we felt that everyone colluded in this vile travesty. I, for one, am deeply ashamed of Tony Pappano for allowing these ghastly productions on the Covent Garden stage. Surely as music director he should have some clout. We certainly shall not be spending our hard earned money on the DVD, if the ROH is foolish enough to issue it.

    • Charles Blom responded on 24 July 2015 at 7:22pm

      I wonder what Mr Boyd-Williams and with him so many others, as he says, consider a fantastic vision. To me this production of Guillaume Tell was nothing new. This is the third 19th century romantic opera I have seen in the past few years, which the producer updated to the Balkan wars of the 1980's. Both Romeo et Juliette and Fidelio, produced for the DNO in Amsterdam, were updated to that same era. So this fantastic vision is nothing more than copying other producer's ideas.

    • Charles Blom responded on 25 July 2015 at 2:09pm

      I’am glad to be entitled to my view and so is of course Mr. Boyd-Williams. What I don’t understand however, is Mr. Boyd-Williams' talking about fantastic vision. Guillaume Tell is the third romantic 19th century opera I have seen being updated to the Balkan wars of the 1980/90’s in the past few years: Roméo et Juliette (Olivier Py/DNO Amsterdam) and Fidelio (Robert Carson/DNO Amsterdam). Many of the details in Mr. Michieletto’s production can be found in so many recent productions of other operas. Chairs: Cavaleria Rusticana (New York), Arabella (Cologne), Jenufa (Essen). Likewise the suitcases: :La Juive (Paris and Amsterdam), Fidelio (Amsterdam) and Mathis der Mahler (Paris). Even the banquet is not new. It is also used in Covent Garden’s production of Tristan and Isolde. So I would rather call this copying other one’s ideas, than having a fantastic vision.

  108. Ronald Bezubka responded on 24 July 2015 at 8:29pm Reply

    Dear Sirs;
    You should not have issued a warning but an apology for presenting such a dismal production of Rossini's final masterpiece. The opera is not about war but about the occupation of a country and that country's attempt to free itself of its oppressors.
    The thing I hate most about regietheater is the arrogance of the producers. We are not morons and we can think for ourselves about the deeper meaning of an operatic text. We do not need to have someone lecture and hector us.
    I am thoroughly ashamed of everyone who was associated with this production, particularly you, Mr. Pappano. You are supposed to be the music director of the Royal Opera and your job entails much more than standing in front of an orchestra and waving your arms. How can you let these vile travesties appear on the stage? Neither Claudio Abbado nor Carlo Maria Giulini would have been associated with the ever increasing list of operatic disasters which we have seen recently. Arturo Toscanini would have been apoplectic! It is with great sadness that I write these words. Sincerely, Ron Bezubka in the Netherlands.

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