I have been in a bubble of sorts in recent months while focusing everything on the launch of my new book TO KISS OR NOT TO KISS.
It is a light read, I hope humorous, and neither overtly feminist nor anti-feminist. If anything, it highlights the importance of being true to yourself, as well as trusting - and, where necessary, defending - your instincts and values.
I have emerged from this bubble hungry now for new intellectual, social and artistic stimulation... only to find in the public realm recently some incredibly disappointing events and attitudes.
Sarah Jessica Parker has come out in a magazine to say she “isn’t a feminist”. What the ****?
Please Ms Parker, let this be a mistake, a misquote.
Surely you know, SJP, that the people who believe in gender equality received a positive boost recently when Mark Ruffalo made some helpful and sensible public comments about feminism. Also positive, and needed, is the HeForShe campaign fronted by the wonderfully centered Emma Watson from Harry Potter fame. SJP, couldn’t you have just left the topic alone if you couldn’t be supportive? Apart from the fact that you are privileged and therefore more able to defend your rights, to say “I’m a humanist” is a lame excuse for not acknowledging the truth that despite other injustices in the world women continue to suffer from discrimination and a lack of equal rights and power. So much for Sex and the City’s version of girl power. Very disappointing.
If you want to read more from me on this topic go to:
From Mark Ruffalo:
From the HeForShe campaign:
Or get a good book out of the library.
The immensely valuable BBC has an hour dedicated to women’s issues on Radio 4, called Woman’s Hour. It is presented by Jenni Murray and she’s good value in so many ways. In an interview recently in The Mail on Sunday I could have hugged her for saying:”I’d make it a hanging offence for anyone not to pay a woman the same as a man”. Bravo Jenni! We know she doesn’t mean it literally but is making an important point.
Then she totally spoiled it – no doubt unwittingly – by telling the journalist that the last film she saw and enjoyed was Kingsman. “I laughed my socks off” she apparently added. Please tell me, Jenni, that you also went on to criticize the film’s sexist ending and that the sub-editor cut out your other comments? Please don’t be passive or naive to the link between the unacceptable, discriminatory ending of this film and the question of equal respect for women, and equal pay for equal work!
Again I am disappointed and can’t believe we still have to fight, win, fight and re-win the same ground over and over again for gender equality without making more firm progress.
What century have I emerged into from my literary bubble?
For opinions on that film you can google pretty much anywhere... and for my thoughts see:
Then I went to the Royal Opera House, where I go probably a dozen times a year, to see Guillaume (aka William) Tell. I went along having learned the day before that there’d been criticism of the opera about a new scene which had been added, a rape scene. I didn’t want to disappoint the friend who’d paid a lot of money for the tickets, and felt I should probably see the production for myself before coming to any conclusions.
Oh dear, what a mistake. I was miserable company, the production was so poor I still can’t believe anyone thinks it’s up to scratch, and it left me deeply concerned a company receiving this much public funding – an organisation filled with artists who regularly feel for and defend against other forms of discrimination and exploitation – could be so blind as to the standard beneath which they have fallen on this occasion.
Let’s start with the least of the Royal Opera House’s problems. This production of Guillaume Tell is extremely dull. If not for the reasons above I would not have remained in my seat beyond Act 1. As a whole the production lacks energy, dramatic impetus and truth. There is miniscule character or narrative development, and much that is far-fetched and unconvincing, such that over 4 acts and 3 long intervals I could have cried with boredom and impatience that so many people could be spread out on a stage (and paid to be there) to so little dramatic effect.
There is some lovely music. I can’t fault the orchestra (under the baton of Antonio Pappano) and the principals each have strong moments. Indeed they struggle to maintain artistic integrity in what cannot be an easy production to deliver.
Here I should add that I suspect this opera would be hard for anyone to present persuasively to a modern audience. The director, Damiano Michieletto, can’t be alone in failing to make it interesting. I don’t know what opera experts believe but, for me, the score of Guillaume Tell is far too long, the composer, Gioachino Rossini, is often indulgent, and the central narrative is weak. There are some quality arias and duets - Gerald Finley as Guillaume Tell, John Osborn as Arnold Melcthal and Malin Byström as Mathilde each show their voices to best advantage in isolated sections. So isn’t that sufficient you may ask?
Well actually, no. Opera in the modern world is supposed to combine strong musical and dramatic elements; as well as meaningful costume and set design, orchestration, production values etc. (Actually the large tree as a set piece from Act 2 onwards was something of a relief because it made a strong statement. And the lighting was imaginative in places.)
Every artist or institution has the right - the need - to aim high and sometimes fail. That is the nature of art. Yet organizations receiving generous public subsidy are not immune from criticism on such occasions. The ROH is not funded to produce material that would be better heard on a CD at home in one’s armchair. So the sheer dullness of the production is the first criticism. But I happily embrace and accept that risk, if that was all.
The 2nd criticism, and the most important, is that if a large and wealthy company choose to commission and present a new production, and create for that production a ‘new scene’ which explores a (possible) piece of subtext or tangential narrative, then they better make sure they do it in a way which justifies its existence - dramatically and musically - and adds to the overall experience, deepening the audience’s appreciation of the opera. In all these aspects the Royal Opera House utterly fails with the new ‘rape scene’ in Act 3 of Guillaume Tell.
As a comment about women being raped in war, I can appreciate the idea may have come up in the rehearsal room. In the background it may have warranted a small example of intimidation between soldiers and a peasant girl. BUT it definitely does not warrant the centre stage ‘celebration’ it has been given. In fact this new scene’s prominence is disgusting. Here’s why:
· the invented episode is entirely unrelated to the central characters or the core story;
· a scene dedicated to the rape of an innocent bystander is a huge embellishment of a possible background element;
· the threatening abusive behaviour goes on for an extraordinarily long period of time – for no justifiable reason - with increasing violence and torment for the innocent and defenceless female victim;
· the same point could have been made with a few bars of music and action (without causing offence to anyone);
· the light-hearted folk music to which her abuse is set in this ‘new scene’ clashes so badly in tone with the reality of what we are seeing that it seems to mock her (and any sympathetic person’s) distress;
· it is the only time in the production where the director appears to have come up with a powerful idea which, when contrasted against the plodding dullness of the rest, only heightens our discomfort;
· and meanwhile the main story desperately lacks believable narrative development of its own.
It is also unacceptable to use a slimly justified bit of subtext about violence against women in war to inject into an otherwise dull and sedate journey a token of dynamism. What a very poor excuse it is for real creativity or imagination. The Royal Opera House should be ashamed of itself.
Greatly concerning too is that the ROH was insensitive (dare I say arrogant) in the way it initially handled people’s objections to the scene. And their efforts after the opening night fiasco to appear diligent and concerned have been as artificial as the scene itself.
Yes, the ROH has attempted to make the scene less abhorrent by shortening the nudity. But it’s not the sight of a beautiful naked woman which offends me; that is nothing in the context of a well conceived play. It is the ominous threat and cruelty of this extended and (seemingly glorified) scene which vanquished my spirits as it abused and raped the poor victim – a character who came from nowhere and whose plight was then ignored.
This lack of respect for women is contemptible – shared knowingly or otherwise by everyone around this production who was in a position of power and could have made different choices.
In the 21st Century how could a publicly funded organisation such as the ROH completely fail to notice, let alone avoid, an instance of gross indulgence and offence to women?
Neither the pathetic slip of paper inserted into the programme (if you happened to buy one or pick it up) or the email some received from the General Manager warning of the “possible offence”, is enough to make up for it.
I am bitterly disappointed in the Royal Opera House. Imagine if gay or religious rights were treated with such disdain how loud the outcry would be?
The only things that hit their targets in this production were the brave soprano who complained after a dress rehearsal, only to be ignored until the boo-ing began on opening night. And the tenor who expertly shoots the apple off his son’s head. Bravo for those good shots. Bravo.
But definitely BOO for the rest. BOO and SHAME ON YOU.