Opera fans heading for The Wellesley Cinema on Sunday for the live transmission of ‘William Tell’ from The Royal Opera House should go prepared. The production’s opening night resulted in booing and walkouts from the audience – with far more cat calls than curtain calls – and an avalanche of criticism in the national press. The Royal Opera House director of opera, Kasper Holten, remains defiant and asserts that no changes will be made.
The furore centres on a particular scene where a woman is stripped and raped by soldiers. Defending the decision to present the scene in a way which some reviews have referred to as ‘protracted and pruriently voyeuristic’, Holten claims that the graphic presentation of the scene is not gratuitous but ‘realistic’ in illustrating what happens in war.
Opera and its audiences may seem to many to be the epitome of decorum but the art form has a history of controversy. The English National Opera’s version of Verdi’s ‘A Masked Ball’ in 2002 featured ‘rape, murder of a youth, cross-dressing, male and female nudity and a scene in which the chorus sang whilst sat on a toilet.’ It enraged many in the audience but received good reviews.
Last year audiences at New York Metropolitan Opera picketed the theatre in protest at the production of ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ and the cinema transmission was scrapped. Maybe audiences heading for the Wellesley on Sunday should prepare to cross the barricades!
‘William Tell’ will be transmitted live from the ROH at 2.45 on Sunday 5th July.