Pulling the curtain on some of history’s most riotous performances.
Throughout music history, there have been plenty of performances where the real show occurred off-stage, resulting in riots and controversy that would be sure to garner a viral hashtag or two nowadays. Grab a front row seat as we explore some of the most disruptive and infamous shows in music history.
1 La Muette de Portici
A “Revolutionary” Performance
Based on the Neapolitan uprising against Spanish rule in 1647, it is only fitting that La Muette de Portici’s climax prompted the beginning of the Belgian Revolution. On August 25, 1830 during a revival performance of the opera, the man playing Masaniello—the historic leader of the Naples revolt—yelled “To Arms!” on stage and the audience followed the order.
This opera can’t take full credit for protests that kicked off the Belgian Revolution in this theater, as they were indeed premeditated, with the theater merely functioning as a convenient stage for the revolution’s opening salvo. So much for the fourth wall.
2 Tannhäuser’s Paris Debut
A Hissing Audience & Growling Stomachs
While the infamous “Paris version” of Tannhäuser didn’t lead to a revolutionary secession, political unrest played a role in this bungled performance as well. Tannhäuser’s Paris premier seemed doomed before it began. An overall aversion toward Austria prompted the audience to hiss and boo throughout the performance.
The “Paris version” of the play included a ballet sequence per venue tradition, but its inclusion in the first act frustrated French aristocracy as it cut into their dinner plans. The performance was derailed once the audience got to whistle blowing. Dinner was then served.
3 Rite of Spring
Class War on the Dance Floor
Want to know one of the most knockout performances ever to grace the stage? Perhaps it’s when the audience of Rite of Spring resorted to fisticuffs. Once again, ills between socioeconomic classes were to blame. After the aristocracy began disrupting the show due to its rather eccentric music and choreography, the Bohemian set—eager to defend anything unconventional—literally fought back. “Knock ‘em dead,” indeed.
4 Parade Ballet
Choreography & Cubism—an Unfriendly Mix
Another case of aesthetic taste resulting in conflict is Erik Satie’s ballet Parade. The show featured Picasso-designed costumes which were beautiful to look at, but impossible to dance in. This prompted many members of the audience to jeer and yell in disdain. Thankfully, supportive members of the audience drowned them out with applause.