How the Performance of a French Opera About a Neapolitan Revolt Sparked a Belgian Revolution

Egide Charles Gustave Wappers, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Egide Charles Gustave Wappers, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

In the summer of 1830, King William I of the Netherlands scheduled a multi-day birthday bash in Brussels, and he expected everybody in the city to join in the fun. The celebration, however, would not go as planned: Political turmoil, which had been brewing in the city for months, would cause two public events—a fireworks display and a procession—to be canceled. One of the few public events to remain on the schedule would be an August 25 performance of the opera The Mute Girl of Portici, by the French composer Daniel Auber.

Like the other events planned that week, the show would experience a few hiccups.

In the mid 1830s, tensions in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands were at a boil. In the north, most citizens (King William I among them) were Dutch Protestants. In the south, most people were French-speaking Roman Catholics—and they were demanding independence.

Considering this growing atmosphere of discontent, King William I's choice of opera was a questionable one. The plot of Portici's fiery libretto revolves around the Neapolitan revolts of 1647, telling the tale of Masaniello, the real-life Italian fisherman who led an uprising against the rulers of Naples. (The opera itself was revolutionary, too: Among the first of its kind in the genre, this "French grand opera"—called La Muette de Portici in its native language—was a lavish and large-scale spectacle that, most notably, had integrated ballet and mime into the performance.)

One could say the opera's place in history was preordained: It was one of the final public events for King William I's celebration and, after the cancellation of the fireworks and the procession, one of the few events locals could openly protest. Days before the show, the newspaper Courrier des Pays-Bas suggested that concertgoers should leave the performance at the fifth act. Many of the attendees, however, were so moved by the opera's nationalistic music that they left much earlier. During a second act duet, called Amour Sacré de la Patrie—or "Sacred Love of the Fatherland"—the crowd began to cheer so wildly that the performers reportedly had to stop singing and start over.

Eventually, the performers reached the peak of the piece's lyrics—singing Aux Armes, that is: "Call to Arms"—and dozens of spectators stood from their seats and ran to the streets. When the fifth act arrived, audience members began to loudly boo in an attempt to stop the show and incite a riot. "The delirious crowd [hurled itself] out of the hall—and into history," wrote 20th-century French composer Lionel Renieu. "Welcomed by the other crowd which waited outside, it joined in the demonstrations which loosed the revolution of 1830."

Indeed, the musical performance had invigorated the crowd. The audience passionately chanted patriotic slogans, stormed into government buildings, and began destroying factory machinery. Within days, they were flying the flag of Independent Belgium, which was tied to a standard with shoelaces.

The dissent in Brussels was powerful enough to attract the attention of other disaffected working class people in the south, and soon thousands more would join the cause. According to the History Channel, just one month later, "the city fell into bloody street battles between the military and the rebels, who were eventually victorious. They drafted a Declaration of Independence on 4 October, and on 20 December the London Conference declared the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was dissolved." Soon, Belgium was its own independent country.

Years later, in 1871, the German composer Richard Wagner—who had met the elder Auber numerous times and had conducted a production of Portici himself—wrote in his book Reminiscences of Auber, "[S]eldom has an artistic product stood in closer connection to a world event."

Watch Freddie Mercury Sing 'Time Waits for No One' In a Previously Unreleased Video

Steve Wood, Express/Getty Images
Steve Wood, Express/Getty Images

There are a lot of things you probably don't know about Freddie Mercury, the Queen frontman whose life was as colorful as his stage persona. Offstage, the singer was famously enigmatic—a person bandmate Roger Taylor once described as "... shy, gentle, and kind.” Now, fans can catch a never-before-seen glimpse of the singer.

As Variety reports, a previously unreleased video of Mercury singing "Time Waits for No One” was recently dropped by Universal Music. Locked within the company’s vault since the time of its recording more than 30 years ago, in April 1986, the track was produced at Abbey Road Studios as part of Time, a concept album by Dave Clark (of the Dave Clark Five), based on a musical Clark created. Some will note how this version of the song is vastly different from the officially released track, which was an intentional choice.

"Dave Clark had always remembered that performance of Freddie Mercury at Abbey Road Studios from 1986,” Universal Music said in a statement. "The feeling [Clark] had during the original rehearsal, experiencing ‘goosebumps,’ hadn’t dissipated over the decades, and he wanted to hear this original recording—just Freddie on vocals and Mike Moran on piano.”

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Clark recounted the first time he ever saw Mercury perform: "I stood on the wings of the stage, and I was taken aback because this guy came out in a black leotard and I thought, ‘Wow, what’s this? Liza Minnelli?’ And then he opened his mouth and sang. It was unbelievable."

It was several years after witnessing that performance that Clark approached Mercury about joining the production for Time. Upon listening to a tape of "Time Waits for No One” and taking to it, Mercury agreed.

According to Universal Music’s announcement, Clark never lost those goosebumps he felt during that initial listen, and finally found the original footage in the spring of 2018. Now the video is available for listeners everywhere to share in the euphoric experience.

"The nice thing about the film is it’s Freddie on his own without anybody else, and it shows the emotion of the song,” Clark said. "We all know he’s a great singer, but I don’t think he’s been seen on his own with just a piano like this. It makes you realize how good somebody is.”

[h/t Variety]

The Bittersweet Detail You Might Have Missed in Game of Thrones's Final Episode

Gwendoline Christie in "The Iron Throne," Game of Thrones's series finale
Gwendoline Christie in "The Iron Throne," Game of Thrones's series finale
Helen Sloan, HBO

While the final episode of Game of Thrones was no doubt divisive, many of us can agree that Brienne of Tarth deserved better. One of her last scenes in the episode, "The Iron Throne," showed the newly-appointed knight putting aside any anger she might’ve had toward Jaime Lannister to finish his page in the White Book. The part was bittersweet after watching Jaime leave Brienne to be with his sister, Cersei—making us wish things could’ve turned out differently for our favorite knight.

There is one bittersweet detail in that scene that you might’ve missed, however, which makes it all the more sad. According to NME, one Twitter user voiced that they thought they heard the song “I Am Hers, She is Mine” playing in the background, which Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi considers to be the show’s wedding theme. Fans will remember the melody played when Robb Stark married Talisa back in season 2.

Djawadi has since confirmed it is the song, explaining to INSIDER why he included it:

"It's just a hint of what their relationship—if they had stayed together, if he was still alive—what it could have been. What they could have become. That's why I put that in there. I was amazed some people picked up on it. I was hoping people would go, 'Wait a minute, that's from season two.' And that was exactly my intent. I thought it would be very appropriate."

Though it’s only natural to imagine what could’ve happened if Jaime had stayed at Winterfell, let’s not forget that his honor (and character arc) went out the window when he headed back to King’s Landing.

[h/t NME]

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