In Brussels, in August 1830, the revolution began at the opera. It was William I’s birthday and the fifteenth anniversary of this Dutch king’s rule over Belgium, a spoil of the Congress of Vienna. The evening was to crown three days of celebration—or so it was intended.
Surely the choice of opera was unwise. Auber’s La Muette de Portici tells of the 1647 uprising of Neapolitans, especially the lower classes, against the Spanish (who had been previous rulers of Belgium, too). At one point the fisherman-insurrectionist Masaniello sings a duet with a comrade: “Amour sacre de la patrie/ Rends-nous l’audace et la fierte” —”Sacred love of homeland/Give us audacity and boldness.” Reports of what followed are contradictory and not always reliable. Agitators, it seems, were in the theater and in the crowd outside in the Place de la Monnaie. Here’s a description written some years later:...
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