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The Unanticipated Opera: A Symphony of Dissent at Glyndebourne

On a seemingly ordinary Thursday, at the time-honoured Glyndebourne opera festival, an unexpected interlude of protest emerged. In the sanctuary of the arts, amid the melody of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, a dissenting chorus brought the opera to a standstill. Sparked by the cause of Just Stop Oil, the interruption blended a traditional form of high culture with the pressing concerns of our era. This is the narrative of that day, a symphony of dissent resounding from the grand opera house to the streets of London.

At the storied Glyndebourne opera festival, nestled amidst the verdant sprawl of East Sussex, the notes of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites hung in the air, suspended in the moment before they would dive into the ears of the keenly attentive audience. A Thursday evening, 5.30 p.m. on the dot, was shattered by an unexpected crescendo of protest — not from the performers, but from the orchestra of dissent hidden among the spectators. Glitter cannons erupted, shooting sparkling discord into the quiet space, and air horns sliced through the composed melodies. The notes of Poulenc’s opera dissipated, replaced by the clamour of the Just Stop Oil protesters.

The notes of Poulenc’s opera dissipated, replaced by the clamour of the Just Stop Oil protesters.

Time stood still for a breathless 20 minutes as the opera succumbed to a disruption. The police, conspicuously absent from the scene, were informed officially, and yet no arrests graced the aftermath of this unusual symphony. The Glyndebourne stage cleared, and the deft hands of ushers briskly, yet peacefully, guided the protesters out of the grandeur of the theatre. As for the audience, they remained nestled within the comforting embrace of the opera house, receiving regular updates and living on the words of assurance delivered by the venue’s staff.

Glyndebourne’s spokesperson expressed regret to the BBC: “Our highest priority was the safety and security of everyone on site. We extend our deepest apologies to everyone whose Glyndebourne visit was coloured by the protest.” She lauded the staff and performers for their composed responses and their grace under pressure.

The evidence of this episode — a video and a couple of tweets — was dutifully displayed on Just Stop Oil’s social media. “Three Just Stop Oil supporters briefly interrupted the @glyndebourne opera festival with the old news that new oil and gas are incompatible with a liveable future.” They continued their manifesto of dissent with pointed references to the opera and a call to action, their digitised cries echoing on the vast expanse of the internet.

The day had been a busy one for the Just Stop Oil protesters, with over a dozen of them having been arrested during slow marches in London, their path strewn with the cobwebs of new legislation providing police officers greater powers. Marches echoed through Hanger Lane, west London, and Battersea Bridge, south London, with the footfalls of 54 supporters resonating in the collective consciousness.

The marches persisted at the Vauxhall Bridge, where seven more protesters fell to the teeth of the same legislation. The operatic disruption was but a climactic note in a symphony of protest, the echoes of which carried far beyond the confines of Glyndebourne.

The operatic disruption was but a climactic note in a symphony of protest, the echoes of which carried far beyond the confines of Glyndebourne.


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