The recent production of Guillame Tell at ROH marked a threshold: the literalisation of a woman’s rape on stage. We all know that opera is a violent artform: Gilda gets stabbed, Tosca kills Scarpia who has Mario tortured and killed and then in turn she kills herself (meanwhile Angelotti is also suicidal), Turandot has people decapitated. The list is quite long.
Yet, even when some violent acts are suggested by the libretto, they are rarely explicitly acted out on stage: Mario is accompanied off stage to be tortured, you hear some screaming coming from him and then he comes back with a blood stained shirt on. What’s so special in being literal?
The rape scene in Guillame Tell is not even in the libretto, I double checked. Could it be suggested by it? Sure. Soldiers at war raping women is no news. Does the audience need to be told literally? I do not think so, give them some credit.
This type of approach to directing opera has two effects: it shocks people, for good or bad, thus giving 15 minutes of fame to the production, and takes away from the music. While I may consider the first point a semi-positive one as it fights art’s worst enemy – apathy – I cannot defend the latter.
The music is not fit to represent that in this case. I could try to justify that better if the Rite of Spring was performed underneath. But what it does to Rossini is to make his music sound out of context and out of time, creating a huge gap between stage and music and destroying the very basic principle of opera: a wonderful balance between the two.
Cover photo by Thomas Hawk | Flickr