Thursday, April 21, 2011

Nudity In The Theater: Too Much For Audiences?

One of the many nude scenes from Baal in Sydney
In the opera world, most audiences wonder if the soprano singing the title role in Salome will bare all during the dance of the seven veils. Few have. But artistically speaking, shouldn't it be put in front of audiences for realism sake? Current productions at the Metropolitan Opera include prostitutes in Luc Bondy's Tosca that have greatly toned down their sexual antics with Scarpia, but the Wozzeck included an erotic simulated sex scene involving a 55-year old Waltraud Meier jumping up and wrapping her legs around Stuart Skelton as he humped her against a wall. The Sydney Morning Herald addresses the issue of taking it to the limits in theater. "Baal is playing at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne. In Stone's version, the actors are naked for much of the play as Baal, an outsider poet and singer who rejects the constraints of a bourgeois society, immerses himself in sex, booze and emotional and physical cruelty. The show's early previews inspired several walkouts by audience members confronted by the nudity and violence." This production of Bertolt Brecht's play has prompted many walk-outs by audience members. But it begs the question of why is this sort of thing fine to see in movies, but it is not good live in theater. In this recent article, Jonathan Bielski, executive producer at the Sydney Opera House, comments that it is justifiable to push the envelope as long as it is not just for "shock" value. "Opera Australia received a number of complaints about the lengthy fellatio scene in Neil Armfield's award-winning production of Bliss last year. More complaints rolled in for Tosca's rape scene, which insiders say is one of the reasons Cheryl Barker pulled out of the role. The company plans to warn audiences about nudity and scenes of a graphic violent and sexual nature in the coming production of Richard Mills's The Love of the Nightingale. So far no one has complained about the topless prostitutes in La Boheme." Opera Australia's Lyndon Terracini says, "Personally, I think there is a terrible double standard. What is allowed in film and television is far more insidious. If you're comfortable watching extreme violence and sex scenes in Underbelly, you should have no problem with Rigoletto." [Source]


  1. Every single opera I went to this season (Metropolitan Opera house), contained sexually suggestive scenes. All of the newer productions have them. And it very suggestive, to the point that I feel embarrassed. Moreover, what about children in the audience? I take my 11 year old son to the opera since he was 3. And even he noticed how many R rates scenes are now in every production. It is not only Carmen (simulated intercourse), but also in Count Ory (attempts to have intercouse), Rigoletto (obviously, with Maddalena), Nixon in China, Wozzeck, Tales of Hoffmann, you name it. I guess it finally caught up with the opera world that sex sells everything. However, I think they must at least, have a warning that children under certain age are not allowed in the house!

  2. I am not a prude and enjoy seeing some appropriate nudity on stage at the right time and place. And I love opera. But I don't like productions whose main goal is to disgust me. It's arrogant for a manager to say the audience "should have no problem." The audience can "have a problem" if it damn well pleases and that doesn't mean ther eis somethig wrong with the audience. It means there is something wrong with the production. Perhaps the manager should remember just who, at the end of the day, is paying his salary.