Breaking: Covent Garden issues sex warning on Lucia

The Royal Opera House has sent out an email to people who have bought tickets for Katie Mitchell’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor, warning of added sex and violence.

The wording of the email is peculiar, to say the least:

The rehearsals have had a terrific start with a strong sense of excitement coming from the rehearsal room. But as they have progressed it has also become clear to us that the team’s approach will lead to scenes that feature sexual acts portrayed on stage and other scenes that – as you might expect from the story of Lucia – feature violence. As a result we have updated our website about this. As you have already booked we wanted to draw your attention to it.

This sounds like a terrible attack of chicken pox in the boardroom, following last year’s furore over William Tell – a row that destabilised the position of the artistic director Kasper Holten.

Board members have since begun attending rehearsals to assure themselves of their propriety.

Holten is on his way out.

A kind of censorship is setting in.

The two casts are led respectively by Diana Damrau and Aleksandra Kurzak. Oh, and in a quick search we couldn’t find any warning on the ROH website.
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  • I am baffled by this part of the release – “but as (rehearsals) have progressed it has also become clear to us that the team’s approach will lead to scenes that feature sexual acts portrayed on stage . . .”

    Does this mean, as it seems to suggest, that the production team were not considering “sexual acts” not only at the start of rehearsals but when their concept of the production was arrived at, presumably many months ago? And if so, why is it that the warning only appears now? That to me indicates an artistic team that is just not doing its job in conveying such information to the PR and marketing departments. Could it be it was afraid of the reaction of some of the public and media?

    I am not against what may be about to appear on the stage if artistically valid. I am totally against the company delaying such an announcement until most of the tickets have probably already been booked and paid for.

    • Well, no, presumably it means that the rehearsals are part of the creative process – as they should be – and that this is how it’s developed.

      We’re presumably only getting a warning because of last year’s William Tell brouhaha – and because a disproportionate number of opera-goers still think that it’s an art form based on pretty singing and nice frocks, in which the murders, sexual violence and psychological torture that feature in many opera plots must at all times be presented charmingly and tastefully.

  • The crucial point here is that if a warning of this sort needs to be given, it should be given before tickets are sold, not afterwards (notwithstanding the artistic process, in rehearsals.)
    Incidentally, having been present at the First Night of William Tell, the booing started not just because of the widely- thought gratuitous rape scene but because many members of the audience had already lost the will to live, by watching a cliche-ridden, poor production, of which the rape was just the final straw.

  • Dear Norman,

    I can assure you that this is not a case of censorship – in fact it is the opposite, surely. But what I learnt from Guillaume Tell is that we could and should have warned audiences properly, so they can choose for themselves (for instance, if people are planning to take children etc). This is why we have sent out the letter, as soon as the scenes in question developed in the rehearsal room and it became clear to us that some people might prefer to be forewarned. I hope our audience will see that as a service and a sensitivity on our part.

    I can also assure you that Board members are not monitoring rehearsals for offensive material.

    I hope many audiences will come to see and hear what I think will be a very strong production of Lucia from one of the UK’s most visionary directors.

    Best wishes
    Kasper

    • Dear Kasper

      Thanks for the clarification. I have, however, had several reports of board members either attending rehearsals or proposing to attend them There does seem to be some anxiety upstairs. all best, Norman

      • I cannot really credit the notion that parents would ever take children to Lucia? Maybe teenagers but no younger, surely. This seems to be a red herring, as does the idea of ‘warning’ people that blood might feature. What is a performance of Lucia without blood on the dress?

        However, what the shadow boxing and veiled language must mean is that we have our old friend ‘graphic sexual violence’ coming down the pipes again.

        Less likely to cause such a furore, admittedly, if you can hide behind a female director who is claiming a ‘feminist interpretation’, and say ‘can’t claim you weren’t warned’. Even if you’d bought the tickets before they gave the warning, and they ain’t offering refunds.

        It does all fill me with foreboding yet again, though. Maybe it will be great and revelatory…

        Oh God.

    • What arrant nonsense from Kaspar. The quicker you leave CG the better your tenure has been an absolute disaster.

      This adding in of sexual content should be announced BEFORE tickets go on sale.

      If you are telling us that you and those at CG who contract these ‘idiot’ producers/directors have no idea what the opera is going to be like when it appears on stage , then you are not doing your job properly. We simply do not and will not believe that you are not aware at the time the contracts are signed.

  • The inclusion of sex and violence is less a warning than an incentive… but I already saw the film “Psycho” … yawn!

  • What sort of “sexual acts”? Please be more specific, Covent Garden! The answer will determine profits and losses . . .

  • Is the ROH now obliged to bowdlerise stories to make them suitable for family audiences? Back to the days of ‘Romeo & Juliet With The Happy Ending’ and so forth?

    Has Britain become so creatively castrated that Othello has to be marked ‘contains violent scenes’?

  • I have quite a few friends who’ve experienced sexual violence of some form or other. Thankfully, never myself, but I never needed a graphic re-enactment in order to believe that they took place, or that they were deeply distressing experiences.

    Part of the power of Lucia is the sudden appearance of a blood stained, now insane young bride having just murdered her new husband in the bedroom after the beginning of the “Mad” scene. It is implicit in the libretto, and naturally, its location, that something of such a violent sexual nature has in all probability been attempted. This is, of course, part of the nature of forced marriage.

    However, not since its inception in 1840 has directors felt the stupidity of the audience so deep that they required a graphic depiction of the full actions of this scene. To do so is to question the intelligence of the audience, deny them the power of imagination, and to indulge the fetishistic sadism of those who find the graphic depiction of rape serves their twisted mind-set at the expense of the revulsion of an audience.

    Does ROH not consider that women who are at risk of sexual violence also like coming to opera? Or those who are the prior victims of sexual attacks? Do those not matter more than the delight of sadistic sexual predators for whom this is a veritable wankfest? I apologise for the graphic language of this post but I am disappointed that ROH is more interested in serving those monsters than ordinary folk who are disgusted by such scenes.

  • Ah. Just to be clear, a couple of points emerged when director Katie Mitchell spoke at last week’s ROH Insight evening about Lucia (which can be seen in excerpt on the ROH website and longer as part of the “live” stream: she starts around 1 hour and sixteen minutes into the recording on YouTube)

    * Lucia has consensual sex with her lover
    * Lucia kills her husband

    Comments about “sexual violence” or “rape” are not supported by what we were told by Ms Mitchell, so I would warn people from extrapolating from a published statement which only mentions “sexual acts portrayed on stage and other scenes that…feature violence”. I may be wrong but that’s all we have been told so far.

    Far more revealing were the comments Ms Mitchell made once the cameras were turned off and we were invited to pose questions to her. In reply to a poorly formulated but nonetheless sincere question from the audience about whether this Lucia would be clear to a first time audience member, Ms Mitchell first addressed the questioner as “my love” (which I suspect she was not, whatever Ms Mitchell’s sexual orientation: the appellation seemed more like what one understands is now called “a micro-aggression” – and pretty revealing it seemed too). Ms Mitchell outlined a number of alternative responses to her production, such as not going to it, or going to it but then shutting one’s eyes.

    Ms Mitchell’s contempt for anyone who didn’t share her view of the performing arts came across pretty clearly to this perhaps jaded observer. Pity this part of the event wasn’t recorded, as it is not often one gets such a peep backstage.

  • No, no, you don’t understand: she kills the husband and society that have attacked her.

    So, several litres of sauce later, that’s all right then. It’s feminism, innit?

    More defensible than Tell, where part of the outrage comes from the helplessness of the victim. Lucia is able to do something about it, if at the cost of her sanity.

    I don’t think the ROH has to bowdlerise or even tone things down that are in the libretto and the music, but this is gory backfill that may well not needed.

    But I guess we need to see it first before judging. I just fear the worst, based on this lot’s past form.

  • Oh no. It’s in my head now: Lucia gains sexual pleasure (hence the coloratura in the Mad Scene) from recalling her killing of her husband – in revenge for the abuse she has suffered. (Also depicted for those slow on the uptake – possibly by video screens.)

    This is her as avenging feminist angel AND eternal victim, rolled in to one.

    Can I get the job now? Where do I sign?

  • Ah. Just to be clear, a couple of points emerged when director Katie Mitchell spoke at last week’s ROH Insight evening about Lucia (which can be seen in excerpt on the ROH website and longer as part of the “live” stream: she starts around 1 hour and sixteen minutes into the recording on YouTube)

    * Lucia has consensual sex with her lover
    * Lucia kills her husband

    Comments about “sexual violence” or “rape” are not supported by what we were told by Ms Mitchell, so I would caution people against extrapolating from a published statement which only mentions “sexual acts portrayed on stage and other scenes that…feature violence”. I may be wrong but that’s all we have been told so far.

    Far more revealing were the comments Ms Mitchell made once the cameras were turned off and we were invited to pose questions to her. In reply to a poorly formulated but nonetheless sincere question from the audience about whether this Lucia would be clear to a first time audience member, Ms Mitchell first addressed the questioner as “my love” (the appellation seemed what one understands is now called “a micro-aggression”). Ms Mitchell then outlined a number of alternative responses to her production, such as not going to it, or going to it but then shutting one’s eyes. I think she was being sarcastic.

    Ms Mitchell’s contempt for anyone who didn’t share her view of the performing arts came across pretty clearly to this perhaps jaded observer. Pity this part of the event wasn’t recorded, as it is not often one gets such a peep backstage.

    Incidentally new readers may want to check Ms Mitchell’s latest stage production – Cleansed, at the National Theatre – which some people, including critics, have found impossible to watch, triggering walkouts as well as fainting in the auditorium. If Lucia is going to be anything like that, a warning seems sensible.

  • Poor singers who have to sing in these “new productions”… I agree with the comment of Miss Farrell above. There are many opera directors who know nothing about opera music but feel they have to bring something “quite new” into their production. And very often it is a disaster…..

  • Poor singers who have to sing in these “new productions”. Very often opera directors have no sense for opera music but at any price they try to bring ” a new look” very often a terrible one. They cannot understand that a brilliant music doesn’t need it…

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