Portugal is one of those countries that decided that increased austerity for its people was the way to go in dealing with its financial crisis and the result has been massive hardship for many. This has led to protests outside parliament and other venues where prominent government leaders are assembled. A professional opera singer Ana Maria Pinto attended one such protest last October that took an unexpected turn.
It was Republic Day, a national holiday, but President Anibal Cavaco Silva’s annual speech was closed to the public for the first time. Financially beleaguered Portugal is often hit by anti-austerity protests, and Lisbon’s beleaguered officials wanted to avoid confrontation.
So Pinto waited patiently outside.
Then, as Cavaco Silva delivered his closing remarks to an invitation-only crowd, security guards eased open the courtyard’s wrought iron gates. Surprised by the opportunity, the soprano rushed in, took a deep breath and drowned out the president in song.
“You could see on all their faces that they were really confused! Because I was singing opera, you know?” Pinto, 32, recalled in a recent interview. “They were like, ‘OK, maybe this is part of the protocol.’ And then at the end they asked me, ‘Is this part of the event?’ And I said, ‘No, this is my protest!'”
Security whisked away the president, and stunned dignitaries hesitantly applauded. Pinto’s impromptu performance of a popular anti-fascist folk song was featured on all the evening newscasts.
Her action has grabbed the imagination of the public and NPR reports that she has helped form a choir that sings at protests nationwide, using music as their means of resistance.
The song she chose on the spur of the moment at the first protest was the anti-fascist song Firmeza composed, according to NPR, by Fernando Lopes-Graça, “a 20th-century Portuguese composer and Communist Party member, who used music to campaign against the former Portuguese dictatorship”. You can hear her sing it at another protest.