Entertainment & Arts

‘William Tell’ controversy over rape scene draws response from Placido Domingo


“William Tell” is being performed at the Royal Opera House in London.

(John Stillwell / Associated Press)

A new production of Rossini’s “William Tell” has caused a stir at London’s Royal Opera House in recent days due to a graphic rape scene showing a female character being assaulted by a group of soldiers. The scene has provoked strong reactions in the media and social media, and now tenor Plácido Domingo has become the latest prominent voice to weigh in on the controversy.

Domingo, who is scheduled to kick off his annual Operalia competition this summer in London, was quoted in the Guardian recently saying, “I love a traditional production... You do not need to show everything. You have to leave some things to the imagination.”

The singer, who isn’t involved in the production, added: “Sometimes some producers make that mistake and you will find that audiences start booing. I am sad the performance of ‘William Tell’ had this reaction. It is very sad because [Damiano] Michieletto is a great producer. I have seen some of his productions and admired them.”

Michieletto’s production of “William Tell” stars Canadian baritone Gerald Finley in the title role and American tenor John Osborn. The brief scene in question reportedly takes place during the third act and features an unnamed female character being stripped of her clothes and sexually assaulted by a group of rowdy soldiers during a dinner.


Reports have stated that the scene provoked loud booing, heckling and walkouts when the production debuted in late June. Some critics lambasted the production as being gratuitously violent. “If this sort of interpretation represents the future of opera, then God help us all,” wrote a reviewer for the Telegraph.

The staging is being broadcast to movie theaters around the world as part of the Royal Opera House’s cinema program. In Southern California, it is scheduled to be seen on Aug. 3 at Laemmle movie theaters.

The Guardian quoted Domingo saying, “You should always remember that children might happen to be in the auditorium, or people with certain moral ideas who are going to find it difficult.

“As a director of opera at Los Angeles I am always aware of this and I like to keep in the period of the piece. If there is something that is very outdated then you have to treat it with respect if you change anything. You do not want to hurt anyone.”


Domingo confirmed Monday through his spokeswoman that he was quoted accurately in the Guardian story.

Domingo currently serves as general director of L.A. Opera. He is scheduled to appear in the company’s season opening double bill of “Gianni Schicchi” and “Pagliacci” starting in September. He will play the title role in the former opera, staged by Woody Allen, and will conduct the later.

The Royal Opera has defended the staging of “William Tell,” posting a notice on its official website that states, “We feel that the scene in question is not gratuitous but is founded in the libretto of the opera and in the context of the overall action of the piece."  

However, the statement continues, “we are aware that some audience members might not want to be exposed to a depiction of sexual violence in this way, and so we have written to ticket holders to make sure they feel properly warned about this short scene in act 3 in advance of watching the production.”

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT