Opera singer panned as sexual violence downstairs leaves viewers reeling.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa came in for a critical savaging from the UK Daily Telegraph's opera critic after her highly anticipated appearance in Downton Abbey was shown on the weekend. The frequently vitriolic Rupert Christiansen referred to Dame Kiri’s vocal performance as marred by “sharp unsteady intonation, heavy vibrato and tastelessly swooping portamento” before going on to attack her dramatic representation.

“Dame Kiri delivered a few lines of dialogue in stiffly parroted and nervous fashion which reminded me that even in her glorious vocal prime she had never been much of an actress,” Christiansen complained, adding that “her flatly modern mid-Atlantic accent was nothing like Melba’s cultivated diction.” The splenetic critic went on to complain that even though Melba was “something of an old soak”, it was highly unlikely that she would have touched a glass of claret before singing.

Finding the episode “ludicrous” and “improbable” he took the program makers to task as well. The real Nellie Melba would never have tolerated being “confined to her room with a cup of tea and treated by Carson as though she was a visiting tradesperson”, he opined, maintaining that “she would only have sung at a private party as a personal favour to her host. Melba was nobody’s hireling: she called all the shots, and the Granthams and their staff would have quaked at her approach.”

To make matters worse, the violent rape of popular character and servant Anna May Bates (played by Joanne Froggatt) was happening downstairs as the soprano was performing for the upstairs guests. Many angry viewers immediately took to Twitter to express their disgust, with Lucy Raine tweeting: “I am genuinely so distressed at what just happened on Downton Abbey I feel sick.” Another viewer, Jennifer Durie, tweeting: “I don’t think I will ever forgive the writers of Downton Abbey for what they did to Anna.”

Writer, broadcaster and woman’s campaigner Bidisha appeared to speak for many when she said that Downton Abbey had just lost a viewer in her: “What is it with male writers scribbling in a quick rape of a woman to spice things up? …I’m not campaigning for rape survivors by day, watching it served up for entertainment at night.”

In addition, a large number of written complaints were received from among the 9.2 million people who tuned in.