After last year’s infamous Guillaume Tell, the Royal Opera’s gory Lucia di Lammermoor has also been booed.

Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House is no stranger to angry punters. Last June, a nude rape scene in a production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell provoked jeers from the audience, and now a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor has prompted a similar response for its depictions of explicit sex scenes, violence and gore. Dividing critics and audience members alike, this new production of Donizetti’s bel canto masterpiece has proved extremely controversial. 

The story is known for its strong themes of madness and murder, but this new production has shocked many opera-goers for “unnecessary” amounts of blood and sex on stage. Director Katie Mitchell explained that new scenes were added to her staging to deepen the audience’s understanding of Lucia’s inner-torment, taking a closer look at the complexity of the madness that afflicts her. 

While the opera’s title may put its tragic heroine firmly in the centre of the action, Mitchell believes Lucia di Lammermoor fails to create enough detail with the characterisations of its female lead. The third act’s “mad scene” of is one of the best-known passages in operatic history, and one that Mitchell believes needs better “explaining”. By exploring the “steps” to trauma that lead to this iconic moment, the audience can better grasp the authenticity of Lucia’s mental instability, according to Mitchell.

Diana Damrau with Charles Castronovo 

To this end, the stage for the ROH’s production is split in two, so that actions previously only described or implied off stage can be seen in graphic detail. Lucia’s miscarriage has particularly come under fire for being too “grisly“. However the production’s lead, Diana Damrau, who has performed this role in seven previous productions at some of the world’s most hallowed opera houses, has been quick to defend this interpretation, echoing Mitchell’s thoughts on needing a greater level of depth to understand this character.

While many have been turned off by the extreme scenes, ROH’s production has also welcomed some fantastic feedback, with Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian calling the production “incredibly powerful” and “compelling”. Higgins described the opening night reaction on the BBC’s Today programme, saying: “It was cheered as much as it was booed, so there was a real feeling of division in the audience.”

Australian audiences will be able to make up their own minds about the Royal Opera House’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor when it is screened across the country by Palace Cinemas, from May 27. In the meantime, one of the world’s most celebrated Lucias, Jessica Pratt, will be making her Australian debut in the role with Victorian Opera, opening tomorrow evening at Her Majesty’s Theatre.