Gang rape scene at the Royal Opera House prompts boos
Auditorium swept by 'sudden hurricane of booing' over 'unchoreographed humiliation' of woman
A scene from Guillaume Tell in which a young woman was stripped naked and molested by several men on stage prompted heckles and boos at its opening night at the Royal Opera House last night.
Directed by Damiano Michieletto, the production tells the story of Swiss folk hero Guillaume Tell (William Tell), who is forced to shoot an arrow into an apple balanced on his son's head by a cruel Austrian governor.
However, the show's opening night was memorable mostly for the inclusion of a female actor being abused by a group of Austrian army officers at a banquet, says The Guardian.
"The officers force champagne down the woman's throat, molest her with a gun and, in the scene that caused the most commotion, strip her and force her to lie on top of the banquet table," says the newspaper.
George Hall at The Stage said the "gratuitous gang-rape" provoked the "noisiest and most sustained booing" he had ever heard at the Covent Garden opera theatre.
The audience's reaction was so strong that Kasper Holten, the ROH's director of opera, later apologised for any distress caused.
"The production includes a scene which puts the spotlight on the brutal reality of women being abused during war time, and sexual violence being a tragic fact of war," he said.
"The production intends to make it an uncomfortable scene, just as there are several upsetting and violent scenes in [Gioachino] Rossini's score. We are sorry if some people have found this distressing."
But David Nice at the Arts Desk was among critics who called it "inept staging". Comparing it to previous adaptions of the scene, in which Austrian officers simply command the Swiss collective to sing and dance, Nice says Michelotto instead gave the audience an "unchoreographed humiliation of a single woman fondled, stripped and about to be raped".
Some directors "love to shock", but Michieletto got more than he bargained for, says Michael Church in The Independent. "The auditorium was swept by a sudden hurricane of booing so loud, so angry, and so unanimous that the music was drowned and the scene brought to an embarrassed halt."
The Italian director may have "urgent things to say" about 1990s Bosnia, the location to which he had transplanted Rossini's Swiss melodrama, says Church, but it took the "unprecedented gut reaction of 2,000 punters to ram home the tastelessness of his little idea".