If you think of William Tell, you probably think of an archer shooting an apple off a boy's head, or of The Lone Ranger. You probably don't picture gang rape. But that is precisely what confronted an audience of concertgoers at London's Royal Opera House during an opening-night performance of Rossini's Guillaume Tell. A scene in the opera depicting Austrian soldiers stripping and sexually assaulting a woman was met with a chorus of boos from the audience. "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," reports the Guardian. The audience reaction was so severe that the opera company issued a statement following the final curtain. “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. The production intends to make it an uncomfortable scene, just as there are several upsetting and violent scenes in Rossini’s score. We are sorry if some people have found this distressing.”
Director Damiano Michieletto, though, was unapologetic. "If you don’t feel the brutality, the suffering these people have had to face, if you want to hide it, it becomes soft, it becomes for children.” While the opera's cast and musicianship were praised by critics, the production as a whole has been panned. The Stage described it as "intellectually poverty-stricken, emotionally crass and with indifferent stagecraft, the result is nowhere near the standard an international company should be aiming at," and noted "the noisiest and most sustained booing I can ever recall during any performance at this address."
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