First off, the one that has been in the news. Guillaume Tell at the Royal Opera. This Rossini opera is about William Tell, could you have guessed? You know what’s interesting about this show? It was the last opera Rossini wrote even though he lived for 40 more years after it. I think he was shamed by nighttime visions of this future production that kept him up at night and he was all, I’m never giving these futuristic f**kers any more fodder to be assholes with, or something.
So that’s the third act of Guillaume Tell. Do you know what happens in the current abomination at the Royal Opera House? When they celebrate Austrian rule, the soldiers drink and sing and sing and drink, and then they take the servant girl who is providing the alcohol, and they force themselves on her, and they pour all the wine on her so she’s soaked through, and then the men put her on the table and take off her clothes (the audience sees her naked), and all the many many men sexually assault her further at gunpoint before Tell rescues her.
That doesn’t sound like the opera as written, does it? It’s not. That is utter bullshit completely added in by the dirty f**kface director Damiano Michieletto, bag o’ dicks director of opera at Covent Garden Kasper Hotlen, and the producers at the ROH. None of that violence adds anything to the show, so there is no excuse for it. I’m sure they argue that they wanted to show how terrible those men were, but it was not necessary to do so, especially to such an extent. All it really accomplished was reminding everyone in the audience that people still consider violence against women to be totally okay and permitted. Luckily, the audience booed during this scene, so much so that news outlets actually did mention the booing, but how many people walked out? How many cancelled their subscriptions? What’s more important, and disturbing: how many people are now buying tickets to the rest of the performances to catch this ‘newsworthy’ production?
This production should have been vilified for this gratuitous brutality and I know I will not be giving the Royal Opera House any money until they apologize. Indeed, Holten said they will not apologize for the scene and they refuse to edit it even though it will be broadcast in movie theatres. He described it as “an honest attempt to talk about the reality of war” and said people maybe “felt we should have warned them better, as people may not want to be exposed to sexual violence”. That’s not it, you ignorant douchebag. People don’t want to see in their entertainment depictions of what at least 60% of your audience has to live with and fear every day of their lives if it is not necessary to convey the message you hope to. And this was not necessary. Did you know, Kasper, that that’s the definition of gratuitous? I’m sure it was really fun for all you men involved to be like, ‘oh hey we can do this shit because it makes people realize how bad war is.’ A) People know how bad war is. B) All it did was remind people how terrible modern society still is when it comes to understanding rape culture. You, sir, do not understand it.
Now to the one that has not received any media attention that I know of, probably because people with the power to make things known in the media don’t really realize how misogynistic this one is, especially since there’s only so much opera coverage allowed by the populace. “Carmen”, Bizet’s famous opera about the wiles of a Gypsy woman, is playing at the English National Opera. First things first, the ENO does all their productions in English. It sucks. I’ve been there a lot, and the productions are sometimes great, but it’s never my or most opera fans preference to see works translated from their original language. I saw “Rigoletto” once in Austria and it was in German instead of Italian. It was terrible. Oh but they did the famous aria “La donna e mobile” in Italian. Just that part.
Moving on, “Carmen” is a pretty misogynistic opera to begin with, but ENO succeeded in making it even more gratuitously so with this ‘modernized’ production. I don’t understand why directors feel the need to unnecessarily change aspects of great works just for the sake of changing it, when it doesn’t add any artistic value. There are some alterations or reimaginings or revivals that are worthy, like the recent “Spring Awakening” production in California that used many deaf and disabled cast members to highlight the rampant lack of understanding and capability in the show. That sounds brilliant. The half-assed modernization of “Carmen” was not: it kept most of the same ideas – lots of soldiers, being in Spain, smugglers – and added hysterically hideous ‘90s-era-Italy outfits and like 6 cars, doing the smuggling, onstage at one time. I don’t know what they were going for.
So “Carmen” tells the story of a seductive gypsy who seduces men and is a gypsy. She is a cigarette girl among hundreds of cigarette girls who apparently work in the same barracks as hundreds of soldiers. It was a big cast. The soldiers are all disgusting. They treat the women like toys and Carmen like a piece of meat. They grope everyone and repeatedly stick her face in their crotchular regions. But Carmen enjoys it, apparently, because she is seductive, so she is asking for it. Hence it being a super misogynistic show as written, differentiating it from the above monstrosity.
The soldiers beg for her to choose a lover and stop taunting them by existing, so she chooses Jose, who was ignoring her. Smart plan! She sings her super famous aria that goes ‘da dum dum dum!’ about how those who love her should beware. Then all the girls fight like really actually fight, because who doesn’t love women fighting and hitting and scratching each other with their claws? Carmen is accused of whipping out a knife in what should have been merely a skin fight, so the male official says she’s going to be arrested and tells Jose to tie her hands together while they figure out what to do because small man brain. That’s what happens normally.
Here, the men tie Carmen to a flagpole with the official’s workbelt, take off her shirtdress, and position her so she’s on her knees. People I talked to at intermission thought this was disgusting. One woman who knows the opera well felt that tying her up completely, as opposed to just her hands, unnecessarily made her subordinate and submissive and was just gross.
Carmen then beguiles Jose, tasked with guarding her, and he becomes pretty infatuated with her. He lets her escape, whereupon he is imprisoned for a month or two.
When he gets out, he and we find Carmen with her smuggler friends, who are driving regular-sized cars across the stage to show how modern the show is. Three women (and one little girl, sadly) compose the group with 3 or so indistinguishably disgusting men, who assault them and grope them all with no regard for which woman it is or what she’s doing or how drunk she is (very drunk). They meet Escamillo, the famous toreador, who sings the famous toreador song (and not very well, also sadly). Escamillo ‘falls in love’ with Carmen, who is instead in love with her Jose, whom she is now seeing for the second time ever. Jose has to go back to camp for nighttime, and Carmen, being an awful no good female who doesn’t understand that men have to work, gets really upset that he isn’t willing to sacrifice his job for her, because if he really loved her he would. This is apparently how Rossini thought women’s little brains worked. As written, Jose’s superior officer arrives looking for Carmen (every man thinks he is in love with her), and Jose fights him. Having done that, he can’t go back to soldiering, so he joins the smugglers.
Here, he punches Carmen instead, for mocking his need to go back to work. She falls to the ground in fetal position, where she remains while Jose sings not about how he’s sorry but about how much he loves her. Then he cuddles up next to her and declares his love more. And what choice does she have but to accept it? What other kind of love could she possibly know?
Then more cars appear and it’s really just nonsense.
Then, Carmen gets bored with Jose, because that’s how women are, those fickle people, and the toreador tells her he loves her. Hey guess what, she returns the favor now. That happens really with no build up, I thought she was lying, but that’s how women do, just transfer affection really easily when they’re bored. Then Carmen and her friends do tarot cards, and Carmen gets the one saying she’s going to die. No one else seems really worried, though Carmen tells them it’s probably Jose.
Escamillo invites pretty much all of Spain to see him in his next bull-fight, and during that famous song we get to watch 100 or so actors in neon shorts and smartphones jumping up and down in unison for a good 2 minutes. It’s like they stopped trying. Anyway, outside the arena, Carmen and her two girlfriends are about to enter, before they leave her and are like, ‘Hey don’t get killed, we know that’s a possibility but we’re going to leave you alone now.’ Carmen keeps a watchful eye until she needs to do her makeup, and Jose sneaks in while she is looking in the compact, because oh girls with their makeup! So silly! So Jose is devastated that she no longer wants to be with him, even though he hit her, and even though now she loves someone else, so he kills her. At the end, after Jose kills her, he normally confesses to the murder. Here, instead, he grabs her by the lifeless foot and drags her offstage as the lights go out. Cute!
So ENO is not nearly as guilty as ROH for disgusting and gratuitous anti-female sentiment, because so much of it is in the text, but how they chose to augment what was already a plethora of misogyny reinforces how normal all the people involved considered it to be. This already has violence against women, but let’s make it worse! This one doesn’t have violence against women, so let’s add a lot, for art’s sake. It’s not art, guys. It’s violence, and it’s perpetuating the acceptance and sickening tolerance of rape culture.