A Royal Opera House production of Rossini’s William Tell was heckled and booed when it opened on Monday night, because of a scene where a young woman is stripped naked and molested by army officers. In the scene, a female actor who is not part of the singing cast, has officers from the Austrian army force champagne down her throat, molest her with a gun and — causing the most uproar — strip her and force her to lie on top of the banquet table. The reaction of the audience was so strong that Kasper Holten, the ROH’s director of opera, released a statement to defend the artistic choices. “The production includes a scene which puts the spotlight on the brutal reality of women being abused during wartime, and sexual violence being a tragic fact of war,” Holten wrote. “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.” Reaction continued after the performance. Several audience members took to Twitter to voice their disgust at the scene (and some defended it). In a one-star review for The Stage, George Hall called the scene “gratuitous,” calling the entire production “intellectually poverty-stricken, emotionally crass and with indifferent stagecraft.” Director Damien Michelietto remained defiant however, saying he would change nothing. “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.”
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