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William Tell Gang-Rape Scene Receives Poor Reviews, Outrages Responses

by Ian Holubiak   Jul 1, 2015 11:10 AM EDT

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Art has spurred many a-controversy for as long as it has been in creation (and that's a very long time). However, critics and concertgoers alike have agreed that the latest staging of Rossini's epic four-part production of William Tell at the Royal Opera House is distasteful and offensive, specifically because of its 5-minute long rape scene.

Drawing boos and dissent, the audience became angry during the third act of the opera on Monday evening. Directed, non-ironically, by Damiano Michiletto--in his Covent Garden debut--the third act contains a scene in which a woman is forced to drink champagne, molested with a gun and then laid on a table while unencumbered soldiers gang rape her.

While booing may not necessarily be an entirely uncommon practice at a performance, it was staggering to read that the booing actually continued through the music and yielded 2,000 patrons all disagreeing. The Guardian even called the moment a "pruriently voyeuristic" scene.

However, the director of opera in London, Kasper Holten, stood by the production, citing that art guides the spotlight onto the issue of rape and sexual violence. Holten went so far as to say:

"I think it is very important that we are honest about sexual violence being a tragic fact for women around the world in warfare. Artists need to put the spotlight on that and make people think about that rather than stay silent about it and romanticize warfare. There is a reference in the first act to a man who's daughter [who has been the victim of] an attempted rape by the oppressors. It is all there in the Rossini and we need to bring that out and make it clear to people that it is not a lovely fairy tale, it is a story about terrible things that happen to real people."

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