Think the hot-take-o-sphere internet’s a tough crowd? Try opera-goers!

The Royal Opera just opened a new production of Rossini’s William Tell. (You know, the one with the apple-arrow bit and the famous overture that you’ve heard a million times.) And the Guardian reports that this particular staging incorporates a fairly graphic scene of sexual violence:

On opening night, though, it was marked mostly for Italian director Damiano Michieletto’s inclusion of a female actor, who is not part of the singing cast, being abused during a banquet by a group of officers in the Austrian army.

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.

Well, the audience didn’t particularly approve of this grimmer envisioning. The BBC reports that there was vocal disapproval and outright booing from the audience at opening night. One reviewer called the scene “gratuitous” and said it spawned “the noisiest and most sustained booing I can ever recall during any performance at this address.” Though apparently the crowd at this particular theater isn’t exactly known for being a bunch of church mice:

Mark Valencia writing for What’s on Stage pointed out that first night booing is “a fast-growing problem at Covent Garden” that doesn’t happen at other opera houses.

“It’s become standard practice for the director of practically every new production to be jeered by practised factions in the audience who object to ideas that go beyond the literal reading of an opera,” he said.

But Valencia added that on this particular occasion, “the perpetrators did something unheard of: they booed during the music. And they did so loudly and long.” (Of course, who knows how many people were actually booing.)

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The Guardian reports that the Kasper Holten of the Royal Opera House responded, insisting there was a point to the scene:

“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,” Holten said.

“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.”

Who knew opera fans were quite so aggressive?


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

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