Recently , London's Royal Opera , Covent Garden revived a legendary , rarely performed opera by Gioacchino Rossini (1792 - 1868 ) , best
known for his beloved comic opera The Barber of Seville . This was the famous William Tell , made famous by its use on "The Lone Ranger ".
The famous overture is just the opening of a huge , nearly four hour long operatic epic based on medieval Swiss history , when Switzerland
was under the tyrannical rule of Austria . Because of its great length , extremely demanding parts for the principal singers and overall
unwieldiness , the opera has never been performed frequently , and revivals are always musical events .
The opera is chock full of wonderful music beyond the famous overture , though , so it's definitely worth seeing if you ever get a chance .
It has also frequently been performed with extensive cuts for practical reasons .
But the recent production in London provoked considerable critical outrage because the director , who shall remain nameless ,
indulged in some of the typical directorial mayhem which has been plaguing European opera productions since the 1970s . This dramatic
perversity has been labelled "Eurotrash opera ", or "Regie theater " , in which directors and designers take truly unwaranted liberties with
dramatic values , such as adding all manner of gratuitous sex, violence and ridiculous arbotrary production gimmicks .
If the great composer Rossini were alive today , he would no doubt have suffered heart failure during one of the opera's ballet
sequences in this production . In one scene , Swiss peasants are dancing in honor of the tyrannical Austrian ruler of Switzerland, the one who
orders Wiilliam Tell, leader of the Swiss resistance , to shoot an arrow in order to attempt to shoot an apple off his son's head .
The director perversely turned the ballet into a dance by Austrian soldiers who strip and brutally rape a young Swss woman !
He claimed that this was intended to show the "ugliness of war", or something to that effect . But was this really necessary in an opera
like this ? I think not . The London music critics had a field day denouncing the director, as well they should have . But such excesses have
unfortunately becme the norm in European opera companies, especially Germany , where it's de rigeur to do all manner of perverse
things to any given opera . You almost never see an opera staged in its original time or even location . Or possibly it will be in the
country of the original libretto , but it will be in the present day . Updating the operas is far from the worst part of these productions ,
and is not really objectionable in itself . But the directors and designers always seem to have some ridiculous arbitrary gimmick up their
sleeves, just for shock value . Such as showing *** executing people even in an opera which takes place centuries before the second world
war , and other preposterous gimmicks .
There have been a fair number of productions in America and Canada which update operas and use gimmicks, but they fortunately tend not
to be nearly as perverse as the European ones .
Interestingly , this production will be coming to New York's Metropolitan opera in the near future , where it has not been performed for
at least 80 or so years . Whether the ballet will repeat what was in the London performances remains to be seen , but let's hope not !
The London production will probably be released on DVD before long , but there are at least two others in existence . Try the production
from La Scala, Milan conducted by Riccardo Muti , which dates from about 20 or so years ago . Such a great opera deserves better than
to be subject to gratuitous sex and violence . Leave poor Rossini in peace, please !