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Small adjustments made to production of Guillaume Tell

The scene that caused some concern at the opening night has not changed in its essence.

By Kasper Holten (Former Director of Opera, The Royal Opera)

5 July 2015 at 5.19pm | 24 Comments

It is common practice that a director makes small adjustments during a run of performances, and the same can be said of the conductor. This occurred following the first night of Guillaume Tell.

We at the Royal Opera House support the director in this right to make artistic judgements including any tweaks or changes to a production.

The scene that caused some concern at the opening night has not changed in its essence. It is the same duration and makes the same point that we find valid for the theatrical context.

We have written to all ticket buyers to forewarn them that there are scenes in the production that contain momentary nudity and violence of a threatening sexual nature.

The audience on the second night were gripped by the production and remained silent throughout other than applauding some great musical moments.

By Kasper Holten (Former Director of Opera, The Royal Opera)

5 July 2015 at 5.19pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Damiano Michieletto, Guillaume Tell, Production

This article has 24 comments

  1. Douglas Lee responded on 5 July 2015 at 7:02pm Reply

    'Small adjustments' - as in 'please adjust your dress'?

  2. John Assirati responded on 5 July 2015 at 7:52pm Reply

    Would the ROH mind if I bought a ticket and placed a dummy in my seat ?

  3. Eve Hale responded on 5 July 2015 at 7:58pm Reply

    Kasper: would you care to be as explicit in your description of the chamges as the production was (at least initially) in its portrayal of the gang rape? Be honest and don't hide behind vague statements of this kind. As many have said making adjustments in the light of criticism is not dishonourable. Making them whilst pretending you haven't really is just dishonest. Fiest no artistic integrity and now no integrity at all.

  4. Will Sherwood responded on 5 July 2015 at 8:50pm Reply

    All of your responses on this matter are degrading to opera! Continuously and without fail artists from every second of history have claimed that art should be truthful. This production is gripping and responds to elements of warfare that opera has never explicitly covered through physical action (only words as I will discuss later). This is a shame. Do you consider opera to be above any other form of art? If so you need to rethink everything you know. Some of the greatest composers wrote music for the masses (i.e. the working and lower classes) and they are well known and respected works and because of this opera, like literature & poetry, drama, art etc should not exclude controversial topics. Where would we be if artists never approached such topics as they have? Wordsworth and Coleridge would definitely never have sparked such a poetical revolution that threatened English art to its core at a time of a 'national identity crisis'.

    Art is art and opera should NOT consider itself a distinct and separate cell from what we consider 'art'. I will point out that it is this particular vein of thought that puts so many people (particularly young people) off of opera and classical music. I applaud this production for its movement forward in gripping the truth and forcing us to witness what so many throughout history have had to deal with. The opera is truthful to warfare and for that reason alone should NOT be tampered with. I wish I had been at the performance where you all 'booed' the performers. I would have 'booed' you right back for being so snobbish and cold towards the truth of art. You have no issues watching a gang of pirates run up to a group of daughters "against [their] wills" and sing about what they would like to do to them - a much more explicit reference to rape and warfare than Rossini and Jouy have given us.

    Mr. Holten, I adored this production of Guillaume Tell! I have never seen or heard the opera before but this particular production was so completely overwhelming! I understand why the decision was made to change the rape scene in A3, but I do not agree that it should have been done.

    Thank you to yourself, Damiano Michieletto, Antonio Pappano and the outstanding cast for making this a very special Sunday in Canterbury for me.

  5. Tom Spencer responded on 5 July 2015 at 9:20pm Reply

    Kasper I am afraid that this will not do. Can we please have a clear and full list of the 'small adjustments' that have been made. That is what has been requested. Several of us are also still waiting to hear your response as to how you and the Royal Opera House, in the light of the many detailed and articulate criticisms that have been made of the Director and Production team for Guillame Tell, intend to take forward their continued engagement for Cav and Pag later this year.

  6. Naomi Kerans responded on 5 July 2015 at 9:44pm Reply

    We went this afternoon too see the live relay at a cinema in Suffolk and LOVED it. We were unsure after reading the crits and thought as we had the tickets, we would at least start off & see how it was. RIVETING was what it was and very moving .... we thought the production was excellent and I would be happy to sit through it all over another time. Thank you all for staging this wonderful opera - such a huge cast cannot have made it an easy task never mind about the subject matter ! I hope the 'nay sayers' will return before it finishes and appreciate what a great performance it is.

  7. Tracy responded on 6 July 2015 at 12:36am Reply

    Hi Kasper, thanks for your post. I have to say I've been really disappointed reading some of the comments on this website. It seems as if one scene has completely overshadowed the rest of the production (hasn't anyone seen Manon?). I'm currently overseas living in a cultural backwater and the only thing that keeps me sane is the ability to watch ROH productions at the cinema. William Tell won't be showing here until August and in spite of all the negative comments I'm definitely going to buy a ticket and keep an open mind. I mean after all if there's a scene I don't like I can always shut my eyes and just listen to the music, that's the beauty of opera! I think you & Tony Pappano do a fantastic job, I'm proud that you run my beloved (sob!) opera house and can't wait until I'm back in London. My only question is why wasn't Krol Roger filmed? I was DYING to see it. Anyway keep up the good work!

    • Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager) responded on 6 July 2015 at 4:04pm

      Hi Tracy,

      Thanks for your comment. Król Roger was live-streamed and is available to watch in full on YouTube here.

      All best,

    • susan responded on 6 July 2015 at 9:39pm

      That's it, close your eyes and think of England. You say you have read the comments, and yet the point that has been made again and again is that the whole production is a failure of imagination and interpretation. The gang rape scene is simply the most egregious example of it. Makes a nice change to see a woman defend the scene though.

  8. Simon Carbery responded on 6 July 2015 at 8:23am Reply

    Yes, it's perfectly normal for a production to be tweaked during a run; but that isn't what's happening here, is it? Is this really what the director decided to do, without pressure, to 'improve' his production? Or is it the ROH giving in to the, frankly, hysterical, noises coming from a number of directions? Some have asked for clearer warnings about the show, which is fair enough. But the ROH obliged with a wholly unprecedented 1000 word apologia. And talking of health warnings, where was the warning before the show I've just seen telling me that I was about to see a production diluted from the director's original intentions as the result of a craven climb down from one of our greatest artistic institutions? - I didn't pay 165 quid to see a newly-bowdlerized version of this show. On TV last night Tony Pappano made his belief clear in opera as a relevant art form, and I imagine the rest of the artistic team feel the same way; so: stand up for what you believe in. Self-censorship is something that should happen in advance, for creative reasons - not after the event, for political ones.

    • Kasper Holten responded on 6 July 2015 at 6:12pm

      Dear Simon

      The changes are small, and we don’t feel they fundamentally change the message or impact of the scene. Surely, the director himself has the right to make changes, if he feels a certain scene ends up having the wrong focus, after learning how the audience reacts to it. I don’t think the show has been diluted or censored in any way.

      Best wishes


  9. A clever and imaginative production enhanced by an outstanding cast and orchestra. What planet do the critics live on? A veritable storm in a 'D' cup. A truly passionate and engaging performance. Messers Finley & Osborn were terrific as was Miss Bystrom. Thank goodness we have a range of different productions at the ROH. This was the highlight of this season. Bravo!

    • susan responded on 6 July 2015 at 9:33pm

      Storm in a "D" cup? Really? Not surprised you enjoyed the rape scene.

  10. Maria responded on 6 July 2015 at 9:29am Reply

    Saw yesterday's performance, on cinema, and think it was, complelling, outstanding, moving, fascinating... no words to explain.
    We don't miss any of your cinema releases and enjoy them very much.

  11. Stefan Mall responded on 6 July 2015 at 3:27pm Reply

    First, sorry if my english has failurs, it is not my mother language.

    After following this season in cinema, I took yesterday the chance to see the performamce live in the ROH on my was back from holidays.

    Concerning the szene in Act III, I can only say that the "new" version is strong enough. In this form it makes sense in this production from my point of view.

    I found the production an interesting attempt to show that it is not only an old story. In many world regions it is still actual. And I think art and culutre including opera should not always "only" be nice and easy.

    Since I am on my was back to switzerland where I come from, I like to say a few words to the unrooted tree. This tree was not understood in a few other comments. For me it was another strong symbol. It is another link to our times. The last some 20 years we have besides politics another big issue in switzerland: the weather. Actual we have an unsual heat period with 35+°C. This and other "new" weather phenomenes (climate change) causes a lot of problems like heavier winds, hangslides (through floodings or instability causes by melting permafrost) and floodings (caused by heavy thounderstorms because of heat or heavier rains). For the first two is the unrooted tree a strong Symbol. And since woods are an important shelter

  12. Stefan Mall responded on 6 July 2015 at 3:32pm Reply

    against avalanches this can make living unpossible in certain regions where now are living people.

  13. I fully support Kasper's position and the original production:

    The booers last week were reactionary bourgeois prudes.

  14. Greg Sturges responded on 6 July 2015 at 11:02pm Reply

    Had these changes been made for the second performance on thursday 2 july? I found the whole thing to be dramaticaly coherant and dramatically exciting.
    My only shock is to hear how the the audience on the opening night behaved. Who are thses people and did they pay for their tickets?

  15. Kara responded on 7 July 2015 at 12:27am Reply

    Sunday's performance evoked a story of oppression, untimely death, injustice and resistance much closer to here and now than the production's twentieth-century setting:

  16. marisa bonetto responded on 7 July 2015 at 12:46am Reply

    I watched the opera in Torino Italy and the audience not even noticed the scene ! lots of fuss for nothing .

  17. Matt McKenzie responded on 7 July 2015 at 8:56pm Reply

    No-one particularly desires to witness a rape scene but in certain cases to showcase reality, it potentially has to occur. Take 'A Clockwork Orange' for example. The scene represented the vulgarity of its protagonists.

  18. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 8 July 2015 at 3:23pm Reply

    Thank you Kasper (If I may please).My wife and I saw last Sunday's performance and thought it was an outstanding operatic experience. The sequence with the young Swiss woman and Austrian soldiers was brilliantly choreographed and very moving.
    What inspiration to invite Damiano Michieletto to direct at ROH,and what a brilliant debut..So very good to think he is returning for Cav and Pag..
    I am sure you know that there are many of us who feel you are doing a wonderful job as Director of Opera .
    Again , many thanks!

  19. Angela Pearson responded on 9 July 2015 at 2:56pm Reply

    Last night I came with a degree of reluctance to see this production; the tennis was good, the tubes were bad and to my shame I was conscious of being slightly influenced by so many negative reviews.
    How very, very glad I am that I did! I thought it the most wonderful performance;glorious music, most of it unknown to me, glorious playing, and of course conducting(!) and glorious, glorious singing by both the chorus and all lead singers.
    The only criticism of the entire evening, that I have, is the rudeness of the few patrons, who felt their opinion was so important that they momentarily ruined the magic of the music for the rest of us, by booing during the actual performance. Manners, please!
    The rape scene was an integral part of the production, and I cannot believe any of these people have not seen much worse in almost any police drama on television. I actually thought it was very cleverly done, and as "tasteful" as any rape scene can be.
    I am so grateful for a most memorable evening.

  20. Charles Blom responded on 21 July 2015 at 11:14pm Reply

    Why change an opera? The music belongs to the original libretto. If you want to express the horors of war, create a new opera with a new libretto and new music, but don't destroy the original one. You don't repait Rembrandt's "Nachtwacht", do you?

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