The most fully realized riot in all opera is the one that ends the second act of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. It’s a gigantic free for all involving everyone in the neighborhood including nine of the meistersingers. Beckmesser starts a serenade full of errors that are marked by Hans Sachs striking his cobbler’s hammer. “David wakes up and sees Beckmesser apparently serenading Magdalena. He attacks Beckmesser in a fit of jealous rage. The entire neighborhood is awakened by the noise. The other apprentices rush into the fray, and the situation degenerates into a full-blown riot.” [from Wikipedia synopsis] Wagner’s intricate musical depiction of the tumult is brilliant. Meistersinger riot
Daniel Auber’s La Muette de Portici contributed to the riot that led to the breakaway of Belgium from The Netherlands in 1830. The disturbance had been planned before the performance, but the story about the uprising against the Spanish in 17th century Naples set the audience aflame. By the time the Act 2 finale arrived most of the audience were in a frenzy and left the theater to join the rioters outside.
In Act 3 of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots Raoul and Saint Bris are about to fight a duel. Huguenot soldiers in the tavern on the right and Catholic students in the tavern on the left and clash in a riot that ends only with the appearance of Queen Marguerite. Incidentally, the opera is very good and deserves more stagings than it currently gets. It’s not more demanding to mount than Verdi’s Don Carlo or other “big” operas.
Next, two Verdi operas with riots. The revised version of Simon Boccanegra has a new scene in it. It was the first collaboration with Arrigo Boito – The Council Chamber Scene. This is the famous episode that ends with Paolo forced by Boccanegra to curse himself. It’s so good that I’ve included the riot and all that follows it.
The following is from the Wikipedia synopsis of the scene. The Doge encourages his councillors to make peace with Venice. He is interrupted by the sounds of a mob calling for blood. Paolo suspects that his kidnapping plot has failed. The Doge prevents anyone leaving the council chamber and orders the doors to be thrown open. A crowd bursts in, chasing Adorno. Adorno confesses to killing Lorenzino, a plebeian, who had kidnapped Amelia, claiming to have done so at the order of a high-ranking official. Adorno incorrectly guesses the official was Boccanegra and is about to attack him when Amelia rushes in and stops him (Aria: Nell’ora soave – “At that sweet hour which invites ecstasy / I was walking alone by the sea”). She describes her abduction and escape. Before she is able to identify her kidnapper, fighting breaks out once more. Boccanegra establishes order and has Adorno arrested for the night (Aria: Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo! – “Plebeians! Patricians! Inheritors / Of a fierce history”). He orders the crowd to make peace and they praise his mercy. Realizing that Paolo is responsible for the kidnapping, Boccanegra places him in charge of finding the culprit. He then makes everyone, including Paolo, utter a curse on the kidnapper.
Don Carlo has an attenuated riot; it’s in the Prison Scene. After Posa is murdered, a crowd pushes its way into the prison demanding Carlo’s release. They ignore the commands of the King to desist, but when the Grand Inquisitor appears they are terrified into docility. Don Carlo Prison Scene finale
Then there was the Astor Place Riot which took place in 1849 at the Astor Opera House in Manhattan. It left as many as 31 dead and more than 120 injured. It stemmed from a dispute between Edwin Forrest, one of the best-known American actors of that time, and William Charles Macready, a similarly notable English actor, over which of them was better at acting the major roles of Shakespeare. The riot was only quelled after the militia was deployed and fired point blank into the crowd. The riot resulted in the largest number of civilian casualties due to military action in the United States since the American Revolutionary War.