Exclusive: An open letter from Kasper Holten on William Tell

Exclusive: An open letter from Kasper Holten on William Tell


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2015

We have received, within hours of publication, the following response from Covent Garden’s artistic director to an article by opera singer Catharine Rogers, arguing that the rape scene in William Tell was excessive and unnecessary.

william tell2

Dear all,

Let me first of all emphasise that of course the reaction of Catharine and of many others make a strong impression on me and us, and it is not something I or we take lightly. I reflect very seriously, also with my colleagues, about what has happened and what is the right course of action.

I want to make sure to underline that I have apologised for us not issuing a strong and clear enough warning. Of course, audiences should be able to make an informed choice about what they want to see or not, and if an audience member does not want to be exposed to sexual violence, it should be their choice. The scene was meant to be upsetting, of course, but we have no intention to disturb people in the way Catharine describes.

Some modifications were indeed made to the scene between the general and the first night, but it remains a very brutal and uncomfortable scene.

I want to assure everybody – in case anyone is in doubt – that we have not intended the scene to be used for cheap shock value, to provoke or to be, as someone suggested, entertaining. The scene is an attempt by the director to remind us about what tragically is the reality of war fare, and rape is discussed in the libretto of the opera. In the first act we hear that a young woman was attempted raped by the oppressors, and in act 3 the libretto says the officers force the local women to dance with them against their will. Of course the scene in the opera is much more graphic, but it fundamentally tries to draw out what is being discussed in the opera as well, and tries to put the spotlight on sexual crimes.

I will underline again that I take the reactions very seriously and that we reflect on this. It is important that we discuss what the role of art is, what we should and need to show, and whether there are other ways to achieve what we are trying to do. I think it is important that we discuss this, and I don’t think there are easy answers.

We will make sure that everyone who has booked for Tell is properly warned about the content of this scene, and I apologise again to Catharine that we had not warned her.

Some people in this thread want to discuss my aesthetic and my choice of directors and productions in a more general way. That is, of course, also a very relevant and important discussion, but a very different one, which I am happy to have but urge us not to confuse with the issue being raised by Catharine.

Let me assure you that we wanted to put the spotlight on rape as a horrible and terrifying crime and that our intention in doing this was to remind us all how this weapon is being used in warfare around the world. Whether this is the right way to do it, is a relevant and important discussion, but I want to make sure the intention is understood correctly. Anyone speculating in us doing this for the shock value to achieve publicity, I can assure you that I would really rather have been without this kind of publicity and be able to focus on the work itself and the important issues in the work and production.

So, please let us discuss method. And let us make sure we warn people so they can make a choice, just as we should always try to be honest in our advance marketing about a production. I apologise for not making that warning clear and direct enough. But it is important for me to state that our intention was to express disgust at rape and make the scene upsetting to put the spotlight on rape as a war crime.

Best wishes

(c) Kasper Holten/Slipped Disc


  • Musikfreund says:

    I agree that this production should have been advertised from the start with a warning or violence rating, and Hoten’s apology is important. The ROH must have known that some adults actually do like taking their children to the opera! I don’t think there is a problem with the scene per se, but it’s not appropriate for children to watch it. I certainly won’t take mine, although we had bought tickets.

    • Kasper Holten says:

      But the operas story includes murder, a man being forced to shoot at his own son, a man fleeing for his life because he defended his daughter against rape etc. Would you really bring your children to this in the first place, even if THAT scene had not been in this production? Nonetheless, I want to apologise again for not warning strongly enough in advance.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Dear Kasper
        I think Catharine is satisfied with your explanation. I had better come down now and see the piece for myself.
        best, Norman

      • Gonout Backson says:

        Dear Mr Holten,

        First and foremost: let’s not concentrate on the “bring your children to it” business; it’s an easy target, and certainly not the point here.

        Otherwise, I know a play about a man who kills his father, gets his mother pregnant, she hangs herself, and he takes his eyes out. Nothing of this takes place onstage (so far…), and yet it sometimes tears us apart.

        As Mr Borstlap so wonderfully says below, art is not about “what” (the “what” is all there, for all of us to see), but about “how”. Jacques Tourneur knew the most terryfying monster is the one you don’t see. Showing rape is easy-peasy, a one time shock promptly turning into a cheap gimmick. Making people feel like they have just witnessed one – without moving a hair on the victim, that’s what you need artists for.

        With my deepest regards.

      • Olassus says:

        It should be note that Graham Vick’s 2013 production for Pesaro, which is now a Decca DVD, is extremely brutal in the Act III Divertissement.

        That act, the Gesler act, lasts 63 minutes at Pesaro but only 45 minutes at the Royal Opera, saying much about Tony Pappano’s own (musical) brutality.

        • Brian b says:

          Well said,Olassus. Unless Pappano has had second or third thoughts, his customary cuts in the last act, specifically a trio and prayer, are barbarous, whatever justification he purports to find for making those cuts. When told that the second act of Tell had been given at the Paris Opera the preceding night, Rossini, distressed by the cuts imposed on the work already, responded, “What, the whole of it?” Omissions rarely improve a work and, as Schoenberg said, they only make a long piece sound short in places. In the words of that great aesthetician, Mel Brooks, if you’re going to go up to the bell, ring it.

      • Olassus says:

        More specifically:

        Gardelli — EMI 1972 — 80′ 60′ 64′ 34′
        Fogliani — Naxos 2013 — 75′ 55′ 65′ 34′
        Mariotti — Decca 2013 — 78′ 58′ 63′ 38′
        Pappano — ROH 2015 — 70′ 55′ 45′ 30′

        all in French

      • John Borstlap says:

        It seems that you want to tell TOO MUCH, which doesn’t leave any space for the imagination, and opera is mostly about imagination, being put into action especially (!) by the music. So, rather ‘William DON’T Tell’.

      • pooroperaman says:

        ‘Would you bring your children to this opera?’

        You forget that this is the Lone Ranger music. Lots of children will be coming because their parents know the tunes. Why did you not take this into account?

      • Flossie says:

        Having attended and thoroughly enjoyed the General rehearsal of this production, I am more than a little baffled by the reaction of some of the audience which I have heard and read about from the opening night. Rossini wrote this opera to deal with war and oppression and the director has remained completely faithful to this. The shocking scene in question is powerful as it cleverly implies brutalisation but it is not gratuitous. The nastiness of the occupying Austrian army bubbles disconcertingly under the surface until this scene which appears as a “coup de theatre” – after it, we are left in no doubt. The very grown-up story of William Tell is told through outstanding singing, acting, orchestral playing and the set is extremely effective. Give me opera which shows psychological development, is nuanced, is about daily life. The alternative would be so boring. Here is operatic drama for adults who bring their life-experiences with them – however wide-ranging. Opera reflecting anything safer might as well cease to exist.

      • Flossie says:

        Having seen and enjoyed the General rehearsal of this production I am amazed at such a knee-jerk reaction and the storm it has prompted – both on the opening night among a few vociferous and rude opera goers who could have walked out or reserved their boos for the end, and the reactions by people who haven’t seen it on various fora. Rossini wanted to deal with war and occupation in this piece, the producer remained faithful to the composer’s intentions. There is a reference to a rape early in the opera and women being forced to dance with enemy soldiers. The molestation scene is shocking but not out of place. Why shouldn’t opera deal with the realities of life. Musically, scenically and dramatically this worked for me. An open-minded opera-goer.

        • PDQ.BACH says:

          Flossie writes: “Rossini wanted to deal with war and occupation in this piece, the producer remained faithful to the composer’s intentions.”

          No, and no.

          It’s hard to tell what Rossini really wanted, what with Jouy, Bis, Crémieux and Marrast all messing with the libretto.

          We know for sure what Schiller wanted: in tyrannos, and Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité; thinly veiled under the mantle of political liberation and national independence.

          Rossini’s libretto is at most about oppression and the arbitrary abuse of policing brutality; all watered down, to the point of a ludicrous love ploy between Mathilde, the Habsburg princess, and Arnold of Melchthal, the local John Hancock. (Rossini loved to hedge his bets.) It was so watered down that the enlightened Habsburg Granduca of Tuscany, Leopold II, let it pass uncensored at Lucca in 1831.

          Of war, none. Occupation would have been anomic: Habsburg, the eponymous castle, lies 90 km north of Gessler’s Altdorf. The Habsburgs were Swiss aristocrats, and on their home turf (not that any sense of national identity existed at the time of the purported action). The real, unheroic story is that of a conservative Tea Party bunch of local grandees opposing the appointment of fresh circuit judges, forming a separatist Confederation, and trying to snap up juicy prebends from under the Habsburgs.

          Telling it thus would provide large-scale Verfremdung; telling it to Rossini’s music would prove the mettle of real Regietheater.

      • PDQ.BACH says:

        Dear Mr Holten,

        Would you really bring your children to this in the first place…”

        Huge straw man you are erecting here.

        William Tell is, after all, the national epos of Switzerland.
        I still possess 19th century Swiss school books in which the tale is told in bloody, gory and inventive detail (minus the sex, of which there is originally none).

        Schiller’s play, on which Rossini’s opera is based, used to be read in Swiss schools as early as the fourth or fifth grade.
        Rossini’s opera was equally de rigueur, entire school classes attending matinées, way back when a cultural canon still existed.

        Nor was the theme of rape alien to the scholastic curriculum: Lessing’s Emilia Galotti, Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe (i.e, Verdi’s Luisa Miller) and the mother rape theme of them all, Livius’ Verginia, were all read, discussed, absorbed and digested by the time we were thirteen or fourteen.

        The question is not one of matter, nor of substance, but of manner; and, I surmise, of savoir-faire.

  • John Borstlap says:

    For the reality of war violence, we have to go to the middle East. For watching it, we have the news. For reality, stylized into art, we have opera. It is as simple as that. Stylization means: taking steps back from raw reality to create space for reflection. Already the old Greek understood that, when in their great dramas ‘the messenger’ ran onto the stage with some bad news about atrocities, which were supposed to have happened outside the scene. Mr Holten does not seem to quite understand his own profession, his production seems to merely follow the silly fashion of Regietheater, which is very old hat by now and a product from the sixties when it was a cultural ciritique of stale traditionalism in opera production and political critique of authoritarianism. These ‘enemies’ have disappeared altogether, so Regietheater is mere silly convention, repetition of a situation that has meanwhile disappeared.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Signed with both hands.

    • Flossie says:

      John, wouldn’t you go to the opera for the things you don’t seem to mention – music, fantastic singing, acting and playing – an obsorbing story told through the combined medium of these? Have you seen this production?

      • John Borstlap says:

        I have not seen this production – but some basic information says enough to understand that this is a product of Regietheater, and that is where my comments were directed at. Unfortunately the musical side of such productions happens completely independently from the staging, and that seems also here to be the case…. In fact, such productions do immense damage to the musical side. In opera, it is the music, not the staging, which is the heart of the genre: what we see is the outside and what we hear the inside of what happens in the plot. Unfortunately critique on Regietheater is always explained away by the accusation of ‘conservatism’ which is a completely wrong and dishonest way of dealing with critique. You can use many different symbolical styles for any opera, it does not need to be 19C realism…. but alas, the taboo upon any form of common sense and respect for the opera composer is still quite strong.

  • Gonout Backson says:

    It would be easy to answer Mr Holten’s weak arguments. They have been answered many times, here and elsewhere, by myself and by many others, to no avail. People responsible for this running macabre gag called Regietheater don’t react and never change their ways. Why should they, since “none can call their power to account”?

    No serious, honest discussion on the subject seems possible – which proves the question is not an aesthetic one, but ideological, if not religious… Some similarities with the, just as impossible, discussion of the so-called “contemporary music”.

    To make it short. The only reason Covent Garden is there, the only reason Kasper Holten runs it, the only reason Mr Michieletto has been invited, and the only reason we’re even talking about it, is the fact that some years ago Rossini wrote his score. There is not ONE note in Rossini’s score to justify Mr Michieletto’s idea. If someone’s raped here, it’s Rossini’s work – or maybe tortured to make him spill the beans, to scream something it was never his intention to say.

    This nonsense should stop.

    • JEANETTE says:

      Dear John,

      you describe very well, what many opera lovers feel. All that Regioetheater-nonsense must stop, but the problem is that it is, as you say an ideology. Furthermore, it is about Money, power, against different opinions. People like Mr Michieletto know very well, that they are not right in this endless discussion, and they know that if they agreed to any other opinion that this would be the end of their power.

  • Ben Byram-Wigfield says:

    Presumably, there’s a missing “no” in “but we have intention to disturb people”….?

  • Robert says:

    The Royal Opera is supposed to be accessible for all – what a load of rubbish he has written. It does not alter the fact that it is a BAD production and they should, as paid professionals know better.

  • Has been says:

    Is anyone focusing on the musical merits of this performance ?

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      It’s ‘Regietheater’; the music is irrelevent.

    • Ben Woodward says:

      One of the saddest things about this, is that the singing on stage, playing by the orchestra, tightness of the chorus, and Pappano’s conducting are all absolutely excellent. Gerald Finley and John Osborn are simply out of this world good. If only they were getting the column inches for being so damned good.

  • Craig says:

    Lots of people equating portraying sexual violence with making light of it…

    • Max Grimm says:

      I believe part of the problem is that some people at the ROH equated sexual violence with physical violence.

  • Huw says:

    I will be going to see this in the cinema at the weekend. To have a scene like this is completely uncalled for and over the top. I see so many productions with nudity and “explicit” sex which are usually not needed. OK, perhaps some topless women in Rigoletto (but even there, some suggestive attire much more suitable). Producers seem to like this sort of thing at the moment. The response of Kasper is really off the point. You can have a rape scene in which both parties remain fully clothed. Nudity adds nothing and is in itself a distraction to the opera itself. I have nothing against nudity per se: I would be perfectly happy to see a production of William Tell in which all of the characters were naked throughout. However, introducing nudity within a normal production of Rossini is just ridiculous.

    Does it bother me? No, I am so used to crazy productions I just listen to the music and the singing. The ROH had a ridiculous production of Elektra which at the end resembled Shaun of the Dead or a bad zombie movie (everyone fully clothed), but the wonderful music of Strauss still shone through. I am sure Rossini will survive this production as well. I saw it last year in a “traditional” production by WNO and it is really a superb opera.

  • william osborne says:

    British theater has become known for scenes of graphic violence. Edward Bond’s 1971 rewrite of Shakespeare’s “Lear” contained fearful scenes of violence, including knitting needles being plunged into a character’s eardrum, a bloody on-stage autopsy, and a machine which sucks out Lear’s eyeballs.

    A 2008 production at the Everyman Theater in Liverpool of Shakespeare’s Lear was so gruesome that people were fainting and many had to leave the hall to get some fresh air. Actress Charlotte Randle, playing Lear’s daughter Regan, gouges the eyes from the Earl of Gloucester, then sucks it out of its socket and spits it on the stage. The front-of-house staff was specially prepared to help people who felt sick – of which there were many.

    Antonin Artaud, originally a member of the surrealist movement, theorized about the need to portray cruelty in theater. The senses of the audience were to be assaulted to shock them into feeling more deeply and truthfully, and to experience unexpressed emotions of the subconscious. Artaud felt this would act as a “spiritual therapeutics whose touch can never be forgotten.” Many important theater artists were influenced by his theories including Jean Genet, Jerzy Grotowski, and Peter Brook.

    From this perspective, its sounds like the ROH is giving people their money’s worth.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Of course, most of this actually happens in the plays you mention, sometimes described in gory details, whereas nothing of the kind happens in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell.

      • nimra says:

        What would be the point in staging Rossini’s William Tell in a ‘historically accurate’ manner? That would be deadly boring. (William Tell is not a masterpiece such as, say, the best Mozart operas where everything is perfect, inevitable and, to a certain degree, unalterable and which thus ought to be handled with kid gloves.)

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Tell me – why do you answer a point I have never made? I don’t ask for a “historically accurate staging”. I ask for a staging where there is no contradiction between what you hear – and what you see.

          As for Mozart, his “best operas” are all wonderfully flawed. Even Le Nozze, arguably the most perfect of them. Böhm, the most fervent defender of Cosi, has never played (correct me if I’m wrong) the complete score, most of his recordings I know are literally filetted.

          • william osborne says:

            Given the essential role dramatic irony plays in theater, most operas, even with literal staging, would disappear if we did not want to see contradictions between what we see and hear. This is especially true for Rossini.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Let’s not be cute, Mr Osborne. I mean – blatant contradictions between the meaning of the words and the actions of the characters, between the precisely defined (by the composer), dramatic destination of this or that set piece of instrumental interlude, and what a “creative” director makes them “signify”.

            There is a clear difference between a contradiction the composer had intended – and those imposed on him by intruders.

            Now would probably come the turn of the “how do you know what the composer intended…”. It usually does.

          • william osborne says:

            The point here is to illustrate that the criticisms of Regietheater are too often superficial. In their ignorance, Regietheater’s opponents often attempt to turn the clock on theories of theater back about a century.
            Brecht’s theories of Verfremdung (Alienation) and the use of contradiction between what is seen and heard in theater is one example. Through this technique he proposed stripping theatrical moments of their self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them – something to jolt the audience into new perspectives about the layered meanings of great art. This is obviously something many operas could use.

            Brecht employed techniques such as the actor’s direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, songs inserted into the middle of action, and explanatory placards. In rehearsals, he would sometimes transpose text to the third person or past tense, and even have the actors speak the stage directions out loud. These techniques were very influential. The humorous and ironic use of placards, for example, can be seen in Ingemar Bergman’s wonder 1975 filming of the “Magic Flute.”

            The term “alienation” isn’t a very good translation of “Verfremdung,” and perhaps even confusing. “De-familiarisation” or “estrangement”, might better describe Brecht’s goals. Since so many opera librettos are far removed from modern sensibilities, and because so many were ridiculous hack work done by little known writers in the first place, a better term for attempts to create new forms of staging in opera might be “de-alienation.” Most of this is, of course, futile. We see directors’ attempts to make a dead art form new again.

            All that said, I’m not interested in a debate about Regietheater, most of which is poor quality. The views in this forum about Regietheater are often poorly informed and undifferentiated. Perhaps others will want to discuss your concerns about “blatant contradictions” in opera direction.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Thank you, Mr Osborne, for this rich, if not exhaustive catalogue of shaky arguments used by Regietheater’s buffs, including the very tired nonsense about “many opera librettos (…) far removed from modern sensibilities”. As far as Game of Thrones, millions of people watch every week?

            “Regietheater’s opponents often attempt to turn the clock on theories of theater back about a century”.

            Everything is wrong in this phrase. Not a century, but, just as in music interpretation, as many centuries as necessary. Operas were being written for four centuries, following the available and fashionable musical forms and styles, in a permanent interdependence with the contemporary, teatrical forms and styles. And music being a much more powerful and unyielding material than the spoken word, it “congealed” and preserved the theatre of its time like a piece of amber preserves a fly. No way and no use to separate the one from the other.

            And there is nothing wrong with it. Why should there be? For the last 70 years we have been playing “olde musicke” according to our ever wider and deeper stylistic knowledge – and doing it, we gave it new life. Verdi was right. Why shouldn’t it work with pieces of dramatic music written 200 years ago for the theatre of 200 years ago? The result won’t be any deader than the same performing practice applied to music. In fact, it gloriously comes to life when given to real artists. And the Public adores it.

            But the funniest part of your statement is elsewhere: the oldest, tiredest. most worn out theatre you can see nowadays – happens in the Regietheater. It’s a clumsy mixture of second-hand tchekhovian realism, some cheap bestiality of the Roman kind (thank you, John Borstlap!) and your poor, old Brecht, with the “Verfremdungeffekt” eating up whole pieces – usually rewritten from top to bottom for the circumstance. Everything looks the same. Next time I see the chorus in white shirts and black pants…

            P. S. “We see directors’ attempts to make a dead art form new again.” Should we ask them to do the same with the oh-so-dead sonata form?

        • Olassus says:

          Guillaume Tell is a masterpiece.

          • Gerhard says:

            Brecht formed his theories AND created pieces to put them on stage. I have never heard or read that he ever suggested that directors should ignore or counteract the author’s intentions when staging a piece.

          • william osborne says:

            Gerhard, with the Berliner Ensemble, Brecht directed his own plays and those of others. To all he applied his theories of “Epic Theater,” “Theatricalism,” and “Alienation “. He also developed his ideas working as a dramaturg at the Kammerspiele. These techniques were also explored by directors like Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator.

            Brecht had many long-lasting creative relationships with other writers. He deeply influenced many people including Elisabeth Hauptmann, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau, and Ernst Busch.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Dear Mr Osborne, could you remind us when did Bertolt Brecht rewrite plays by these other playwrights and then announce them as their original works?

  • Tweettweet says:

    I do not understand why it would be a problem to show nudity in opera. Why should it be ‘needed’?

    • Emil says:

      Why not?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Maybe it is useful to be remembered of the last stage of Roman civilization where in the theatres, real violence, rape, copulating with animals and the like was a regular item of the divertissement. This was something independent of the arenas where even more cruelty was going-on as ‘normal’, the arena being mere fun and the theatre being ‘art’. We know what happened to the Romans, with their ongoing problems with ‘asylum seekers’ from the Russian plains. The irony is that at the beginning of the 20th century, artists thought that shocking the bourgeois would help to wake them up to deeper feeling. But that class has already died-out long ago and nowadays, shocks are served regularly in the media. Contemporary audiences are NOT in need of some visual shock but they hope to find something of meaning in the forms of high art of which opera is one, when most of any meaning seems to have evaporated in public space. Stage directors trying to repeat the puerile early 20C protests, are the REAL narrow-minded bourgeois nowadays, and they are an embarrassing lot.

        • La Donna del Largo says:

          We know what happened to the Romans: their extremely complicated and labor-intensive bureaucracy became so expensive to maintain that it was impossible to collect enough taxes and tribute to balance the budget. Quite simply, “the Romans” went broke.

          Of course I wasn’t around in person to see Roman theatre and its Greek predecessor, as you apparently were, so I can’t comment on the artistic quality of those presentations.

  • Novagerio says:

    Looks to me like somebody needs mediatic attention! Somehow, I’m glad for miss Catharine’s sake that she hasn’t seen a coloratura-soprano being sodomized by two guys while a bass singer urinates in her mouth (that is, at the Komische Oper) under the orders of media-scandal- guaranteed-out-selling-succès-de scandale-director Calixto Bieito!!….

    • nimra says:

      Why choose the most extreme example imaginable? I have seen two of Calixto Bieto’s productions and they had very little substance indeed. But to use that as an argument against dozens of highly different directors and to lump them together into a category named Regietheater (which is a phantom anyway!) is way off the mark.

      • Gonout Backson says:

        Another old and many times refuted argument: “Regietheater” is people who do all the same THING, but do it in different WAYS. And the THING is as follows: the director has the right to do whatever he damn pleases with other people’s works, and then sell it as the original (usually pretending he did it a service). The result can be good or bad, brilliant or amateurish, vulgar or elegant, stupid or intelligent, but what it is NOT – is the original work announced on the bill.

        In fact, Regietheater is like pornography: not easy to define, but you know it when you see it.

  • alice dennis says:

    I think audiences, singers and critics alike have been asking for some time that productions remain within reasonable bounds of sensible.

    The music is the most important thing and the singers should be comfortable to be able to perform to the best of their abilities without distractions of outrageous direction. It is their voices we go to hear first and foremost.

    Costumes should not be designed before the show is cast and directors should pay more heed to singers requirements. How many times do we see singers directed to turn their backs, throw props or be upstaged at the most beautiful points in their arias? FAR too often.

    Musical entractes should be left as that – we don’t need silly added staging. We are not bored – I often think the director must be bored and so they think we will be too. Hmm.

    I love imaginative productions and I know cliches have to be avoided and I like updated versions….but I just want to see the composer’s vision respected and the singers given a real chance to shine. Violence and sex are necessary when in the story and I don’t mind nudity (if the singer is comfortable with it).

    Maybe one good thing to come out of this and the other fiascos recently will be a turn back to these ideals. Opera will be better for it in the long run.

  • Cynical Observer says:

    The issue for me is that Regietheater now feels hopelessly old fashioned. ROH having spent years with Big House productions (on less than Big House budgets) satisfying neither the traditionalists nor the deconstructivists has, since the arrival of Mr Holten, ventured into the european production style, just as it has run it’s course.

    Radical directors mainly from the theatre are let loose, usually with the aid of a dramaturg, to peel away the layers of familiarity the conservative aka reactionary audience have of a work to show the rotteness at it’s core. The ensuing ‘scandal’ thus proving the point about the conservative/reactionary audience.

    Look at the review sections of Opera or Opera Critic to see how narrow the prevailing style has become and also how tedious.

    There are many thoughtful and sympathetic reggiseurs producing highly stimulating work. But there are equally a great many being given access to opera stages who seem to believe that recycling shock/horror imagery breathes new life into a near dead artform. Seems ROH engages more of the latter than the former.

    • nimra says:

      Yes, the ROH has ventured into the european production style during the few last years, but this is a very positive trend! They have had exciting productions from excellent international directors such as Martin Kusej, Robert Carsen, Stefan Herheim, Katie Mitchell and Claus Guth, to mention but a few. All of them have highly distinctive voices and no one of them fits into the weary cliché of a willful Regietheater director.

      • Don Ciccio says:

        Are we talking about the same Martin Kusej whose staging of Idomeneo is considered among the worst productions in the history of the Royal Opera House? Positive indeed.

        • nimra says:

          Considered by whom – by the ‘unfailing public opinion’? Or do you speak for yourself?
          Kusej’s staging of Shostakovich’ ‘Lady Macbeth’, to name but an example, was masterful.

          • Don Ciccio says:

            Except that Kusej AFAIK did not stage Lady Macbeth in London. As for Idomeneo, it is my opinion that it was garbage or, at most indulgent, heavy handed (the shark? the accordion?). This opinion is shared by most of those who I talked to or posted online impressions. Likewise, virtually all the critics had negatives things to say about the staging, but were generally (but not unanimously) more generous about the singing.

        • Mike Schachter says:

          Totally agree, it was an absolute ordeal. But these are frequent in London opera.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Well said. Where audiences protest against productions, the productions MUST be good, so: bad Regietheaterproductions cannot exist, because how could we know?

  • pooroperaman says:

    ‘We will make sure that everyone who has booked for Tell is properly warned about the content of this scene’

    I hardly think you need to bother now, Kasper.

    You’d be better employed telling us how this sh1t is going to desecrate Cav & Pag later in the year. I presume you already know.

  • JEANETTE says:

    before we talk about this rape scene, the “director” should make sure, that the opera plays during its proper period and not once again nowadays.

  • John says:

    And I thought your first name was Norman…

  • Fourth Norn says:

    Why should opera aspire to be television documentary? Football doesn’t aspire to be ballet, or tennis to be a string quartet. Today, opera is at its lowest point in 400 years, and it will only recover when it becomes true to itself as drama through music. This is not a matter of taste but a statement of what distinguishes it from other art forms. Regietheater, or whatever you want to call this current business, is fundamentally at odds with the art form, so let’s stop calling it opera and start calling it ‘staged documentary with a musical soundtrack’. Oh, and lets drop billing performances by composers too, and start listing them deep in the credits as with the composers of film sound tracks, since this better suits a hybrid in which music definitely plays second fiddle.

  • Alex says:

    I’m so tired of people expressing their opinions as if they speak for the general public. Reading these comments it’s as if we’ve walked into the fifties….although I imagine at lot of the affronted party were probably complaining about opera then too.

    Opera is an art form and it’s nobody’s business to be telling directors that that they cant have an uncomfortable scene in art, with nudity, with rape, with murder etc. Yes, perhaps a warning prior to the show would have been wise. But opera can be incredibly stylised or incredibly realistic, if they choose to portray a rape, either leave quietly or keep your mouth shut and feel uncomfortable, the feeling you were intended to feel during said scene. I just don’t understand people’s reactions to this. Rape in film, fine – rape in theatre – fine, rape in books f- fine, rape in art – fine, rape in opera – GOD NO Which idiot thought this was a good idea.

    I look forward to opera in 10 years time where directors have been forced to have all characters hold hands and sing in a line because of stuck-up dullards who buy front row tickets who believe they’ll get what they want if they run their mouth enough….

  • nimra says:

    @Gonout Backson: as is generally known, Bertolt Brecht was a magpie par excellence …
    William Osborne really has a point here.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Therefore the very precise question I asked: not about things BB stole magpie-like from others and presented as his, which is the opposite of what the “Regietheater” bunch is doing, but about what these people ARE doing: rewriting other people’s works and then presenting these as THE ORIGINAL WORKS OF THEIR ORIGINAL AUTHORS (sorry to scream, but that’s the only way to stress a point here). Did he, ever?

      As far as I know, his adaptations and paraphrases (Webster, Sophokles, Shakespeare, Hauptmann) were always presented as such. The “Regietheater” horde never has this courage.

  • John Aitken says:

    I agree with Alex. Get over it! As a regular opera goer all over Europe some of the most moving performances have come from so called Regie Theater directors. Long may it continue. Luckily Covent Garden is so expensive that my enjoyment tends to come from Berlin, Munich Frankfurt etc where cutting edge productions are the norm. Munich’s William Tell had a ballet of storm troopers! No boos there!

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Could you mean the public there has been properly brainwashed and considers an Onegin sleeping with Lensky and shooting him in the morning, the scene followed by a ballet of Tom of Finland cowboys – as exactly what Pushkin and Tchaikovsky intended?

  • William Safford says:

    Dear Mr. Kasper Holten:

    If you feel that there is an important message to be conveyed about rape in war — such a valid argument can be made — why not show the courage of your convictions, and commission a new opera to convey your message?