Exclusive: Covent Garden bans under-16s from its next opera

Exclusive: Covent Garden bans under-16s from its next opera


norman lebrecht

January 14, 2022

People who have bought tickets for Handel’s Theodora, opening on January 31, are being warned not to bring the kids:

Dear Mr X,

Thank you for booking to see The Royal Opera’s new production of Theodora. We’re looking forward to sharing this ground-breaking new take on a Handel classic, directed by the ever-radical Katie Mitchell, which views the story through the lens of contemporary religious terrorism, and gives a modern, feminist context to the work.

As we approach the final stages of the rehearsal process, we feel we should let you know that we are now recommending the production to audiences over the age of 16, owing to its explicit presentation of scenes of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation and its evocation of themes of terrorism.

The message goes on, ridiculously, to say: ‘Help us to make the Royal Opera House a space where everyone feels welcome.’

The ROH is acting like a captainless ship.


  • Player says:

    Two words: William Tell.

    • Player says:

      I was at the opening night of William Tell at Covent Garden a few years ago, when booing stopped the show and Pappano was shouted at by a furious audience. This will be a searing memory – and it led in part to Kasper Holten’s departure.

      It happened because they allowed gratuitous and prolonged sexual violence to be depicted on stage, without any obvious justification.

      Sounds like Katie Mitchell, who likes to include this kind of thing too (Lucia etc), is intent on showing us some more and the ROH is nervous.

      Not nervous enough to tell her to cease and desist (well, not yet) but hence the trigger warning. (“You can’t say you weren’t told!”) Could be interesting…watch this space.

  • Nik says:

    Might be a clever marketing ploy to get some youngsters interested in it.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Sounds sensible to me, the last thing we want is for youngsters to be traumatised by opera and prevent them from ever going again.

  • Rick says:

    “The ROH is acting like a captainless ship.” – what a silly comment to make without any elaboration.

  • M Le Balai says:

    Nowhere does it say under 16’s are banned. Audiences are (quite rightly) being made aware that the production is portraying and dealing with adult themes, and is intended for guidance.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Time to pull national subsidies?

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Recommending is not the same thing as banning. Presumably Mitchell outlined her concept of modern religious terrorism when this was first scheduled and her feminism is a given I would have thought. As to scenes of sexual violance, harassment and exploitation, I thought all that was readily available as standard fare on the internet to which young people now are exposed to and from which they see these things as normal life. And how has it taken so long to reach the conclusion that this production will be little different from Mitchell’s others? And at up to £240 a seat I doubt many younger than 16 or even 60 will be rushing to see this, although they might sell a few more now it is on the verge of becoming a #CauseCelebre.

  • Robin Worth says:

    She directed the worst Lucia that I have ever seen, but the ROH must have admired it enough to bring her back…….

    o tempora o mores

    • Opera lover in Devon says:

      How I agree with you – and such a gorgeous opera. No way would I ever see another performance of this production. The miscarriage was totally unnecessary. I too was at the opening night of William Tell; we were so looking forward to it that we paid to sit in the front stalls. The unease which I felt at first was ‘confirmed’ when the booing began behind us.

  • IP says:

    Brings back memories of a stage director who boasted that the first time she ever entered La Scala was to produce Carmen. She immediately found the feminist dimensions that had escaped Bizet and generations of opera goers, singers, conductors, and directors.

    • Nick2 says:

      She obviously had not seen Teresa Berganza’s glorious feminist Carmen in the Faggioni/Frigerio/Abbado production for the Edinburgh Festival in 1977.

  • Althea T-H says:

    Bring back oratorio – in church, of course – not onstage.

  • George says:

    Are they referring to the same 16 year- olds that have been watching “Game of Thrones” and “Squid Game” basically since pre-school?
    But if course, those are without the terrifying music by Handel.

  • guest says:

    And why is it necessary to stage it at all? What happened to concert performance? It’s an oratorio, for Chrissakes. What is so ground-breaking in yet another production wallowing in sexual violence? And why does the ROH management believe people haven’t had their fill of such from movies, and are in dire need of more, preferably on Handel’s music, and with real people, there and then, doing the dirty? Sick. Is this what classical music and opera has come to? Fodder for voyeurs?

  • Hugh Kerr says:

    Three words Lucia De Lammermuir!

  • If they want to sell tickets they need to say “nudity”.

  • Chris E says:

    Abandon this PC rewriting of great classics. It seldom makes sense and usually diminishes the original without adding anything except a boost to the vanity of the director.

  • ls says:

    16 and unders are not banned. It’s simply a content warning that people under a certain age may not be mature enough to handle the contents onstage. How is this different from a ratings system that we have for movies in most countries? Based on their email, it looks like under 16 year olds can still attend, even on their own!

  • Emil says:

    “Recommend” and “bans” are two very different things, and it’s poor practice to pretend they’re one and the same.
    Just like “PG-13” movies are not banned for children, just recommended against.

  • caranome says:

    Hahaha. The avg. 15-yr. old sees more “explicit presentation of scenes of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation and its evocation of themes of terrorism” on the Internet in a typical school night than his parents in 20 years! He needs to be protected from a Handel opera plot? LMAOF.

    • Una says:

      Why is it necessary in the first place to have these? What has happened to people’s imaginations? Has it got to be all in your face to shock incase people fgind Handel boring? Why a production as such wherby the stage directors are king, and are far more important than Handel himself? I tgink Opera North’s Alcina next month on far less money and tastefully done may well be tbe better bet. Yes, no more William Tells please!

    • Peggy says:

      Do you maybe mean LMFAO? Clearly you’re not in the “banned” demographic.

  • John edwards says:

    A recommendation is not a ban. Obviously

  • Edith says:

    Top to bottom the ROH is a sinking ship. Rancid.

  • Nicholas Ennos says:

    Woke or what?

  • Nick2 says:

    I completely fail to understand why the management of any opera house engaging as controversial a director as Katie Mitchell would not first have talked to her about her concept for the work. If not then, they would eventually have come to a better idea about what exactly might be happening on stage.

    At the very least what is happening on stage in this production ought to have been known to many in the ROH months ago. Portrayal of sexual violence etc. does not suddenly appear at rehearsal stage. So WHY have these management bureaucrats been so incredibly lax that they wait until a couple of weeks or so prior to the premiere before advising ticket holders that they had bought tickets under false pretences?

    The ROH management has shown it is indeed a rudderless ship.

  • Marilyn Cutts says:

    I started going to Covent Garden aged 13, possibly younger. I was not accompanied by an adult I went with friend of the same age, and we stood at the back of the stalls. The first opera I saw was Benvenuto Bellini, with Nicolai Gedda, and from then on I was hooked. It is for the parents of young adults to decide what they should see. Put warnings in the media by all means, but do not patronise your potential audience.

  • Maria says:

    The producer should be stopped then in that case! As for kids at the opera and bring suitable, a precocious six year old in the fourth row of the Stalls with his mask on and who didn’t want to be there, with his doting daddy obviouusly educating his son in opera, managed to disrupt every act of Traviata considerably in October at Covent Garden, and made no attermpt to wven take him home at an interval. Another time in 2013 I went to see Opera North’s Saul and a women brought her screaming toddler in in a buggie. The staff said in both cases they were powerless to do anything as they were children and had bought a ticket!

  • Opera lover in Devon says:

    We had a similar problem years ago at GOT in Woking. A group of people in wheelchairs who had ‘breathing’ problems were brought in after the opera had started to the back of the Royal Circle. Their extraneous noise was to me unacceptable. I complained in the interval and was offered seats in the stalls. Afterwards I wrote to Glyndebourne but did not receive a reply (most unusual for Glyndebourne). I think they didn’t know how to reply without causing offence to the ‘offending’ audience members and their carers.

  • SC says:

    Never mind Katie Mitchell’s “running water drowns out music” Lucia, who remembers this?