Guillaume Tell ROH – audience back Gesler, not Tell.

What kind of sadistic regime would force a man to shoot an apple off the head of his own child  Terrorist tactics, which ISIS might adopt to silence opposition. Schiller and Rossini might want us to sympathize with the Swiss, but a sizeable part of tonight’s audience at the Royal Opera House Guilluame Tell clearly sided more with Gesler and his politics of intimidation.  As if orchestrated on cue , vociferous booing and shouting erupted, followed by shouting,  which continued during the music. At one point someone shouted as William Tell was taking aim. Luckily, the apple was wired to explode. If Gerald Finley had been firing a real arrow, he might have flinched and poor Jemmy
would be killed. Perhaps the booing mob think that’s funny. Let’s have no illusions that booing has anything to do with art. A lot of these booers take pleasure in inflicting pain. 

Forcing a man to shoot an apple off a child”s head is an act of grotesque cruelty. Yet these booers didn’t seem to mind. What drew their ire was a short sequence in which a woman is bullied by drunken soldiers, who tear her clothes off. The scene lasts but a few seconds, but the booers must have been waiting for it all evening. But as we know from Boko Haram and ISIS, women get raped. That’s what we should get upset about not the depiction thereof. In any cse, the scene fis not gratuitous, but follows in from many sequences  which show how savage Gesler’s men can be. As a friend observed, a rustic dance in the midst of war would be silly.

Duringbthe Overture, Jemmy (Sofia Fomina) is seen playing with toy soldiers. We see hi8s face close up on a screen. he’s completely caught up in his game. If only more adults still had such powers of i8magination !  Jemmy picks up a comic book, “William Tell by Frederick Schiller”. and gets engrossed.  Perhaps the booing mob would prefer a comic book production, where everything i8s simpliefed in simple outlines. Foirtunately, director Damiano Michieletto, has oput more thought into this production than the comic book crowd could comprehend.  Using the dance sequences as dramatic narrative allows Michieletto to develop Jemmy into a fully fledged personality, every bit as much a hero as his Dad, only smaller.  At one stage, the boy mimics his Dad’s every move, as kids do.  The villagers community seems as close knit as extended family. This emphasized Jemmy’s, youth and innocence,m which makes the horror that descends on his family and commnnity even more poignant. It helps that Sofia Fomina is a wonderful character soprano, a rare and special breed. She says in role even through curtain call.

When the Austrians arive this vernal purity 8s shattered. A vast uprooted tree dominates the stage. Perhaps it was uprooted in a storm or an avalanche, Nature’s way of inflicting change.  Jagged, twisted branches and roots suggest cataclysmic trauma, yet,  as mountain folk know, uprooted trees  support a fertile ecosystem. The villagers will eventually truimph, the invaders will be repelled. The storm at sea scenes in the final act is almost impossible to depict literally,so Michieletto and his designer Paolo Fantin come up with a brilliant iamginary solution.  Jemmy, in his anguish, grabs the comic book to see hownthe story will end.  The cartoons are projec5ted above the stage, so we can follow them as avidly as Jemmy does. For a moment, we too are3 back in the innocence of childhood. And so the village mothers bathe their children, cleaning away the pollution. that Geesler'[s men have inflicted on their land.

House favourite Gerald Finley sang Guilluame Tell, with depth.  John Osborn sang the fiendishly difficult part of Arnold, which he also sang in the Welsh National Opera Guilluame Tell last year.
Delicious singing, to match Pappano’s passionate conducting.  If only I didn’t have such vivid memories of Michael Volle and Bryan Hymel who sang the opera in Munich a year ago !  On the other hand the Munich production was awful, though it did try to engage with some of the underlying ideas, like gun violence. Malin Byström sang a good Mathilde. Sofia Fomina was an excellent Jemmy.  Eric Halfvarson sang Melcthal, Nicolas Courjal sang Gesler, and Michael Colvin sang Rodolphe, an extremely well characterized performance which made a much bigger impact than the amount allocated to him in the score.  And as for Antomio Pappano ?   As always,tops in this repertoire, to the manner born. 

BBC Radio 3 will broadcast Guillaume Tell live from the Royal Opera House on 14 July 2015
Photos by Clive Barda, courtesy ROH

Original Source: Guillaume Tell ROH – audience back Gesler, not Tell.

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