In a break from the usually reserved and respectful atmosphere, the opening night of Guillaume Tell at the Royal Opera House was interrupted by loud boos, especially from female audience members.
Directed by Damiano Michieletto, this is the first time that the iconic Gioachino Rossini work has appeared at the ROH since 1992. Although it is an above average production with magnificent set design, another 20 years may pass before it returns given the reception it received last night.
During the third act, the villain Gesler and about 20 of his officers hold a banquet to celebrate a centenary of Austrian rule over the Swiss. At one point, a serving woman is forcibly passed between the men. Wine is poured over her head until her dress is soaked. She is gang-groped at gunpoint by the laughing mob before being lifted onto the dining table. There, her dress is roughly removed and she is briefly shown to be naked before Guilluame Tell covers her in a cloak.
The reaction to this scene was immediate and vocal. As well as the very loud boos, there were audible comments of “needless” and “gratuitous”. The crowd was soon won back by the strong performances which followed but the opening of the fourth act saw more booing as well as some pointed remarks about the static directing.
At the finale, the cast were heartily applauded. It was not until the director and several others appeared at the end – appropriately all dressed in black like pantomime evildoers – that the loudest expressions of disapproval filled the ROH auditorium.
The performance of Guillaume Tell on 5 July at 3pm will be relayed live to more than 1,500 cinemas in more than fifty countries as part of the Royal Opera House Live Season. BBC Radio 3 will broadcast the production live on 14 July. More information on the current run can be found at roh.org,uk.