*Brussels. Prosperous Flanders city (now part of Belgium), whose streets are gathering places for merchants, soldiers, and simple people to discuss politics freely. However, a revolt against Spanish rule fanned by Calvinist preachers has brought political turmoil. When the occupying army under the duke of Alba enters the city, the streets of Brussels are emptied and silenced by martial law. Gallows, built at night and shrouded in black on the town square, point up the treachery of Alba, the intolerance of the Spanish rule, and the end of the freedoms the citizens have enjoyed.
Alba’s palace. Official Brussels residence of the duke of Alba, the emissary of the Spanish king, Philip II. The palace, in keeping with his harsh regime, is an armed camp. Stiff, motionless soldiers line its corridors; entrances are tightly guarded; ministers fear to speak. Lured to the palace under false pretenses, Count Egmont is arrested and chained in its subterranean dungeon. In his despair he dreams that the prison wall opens, and a female figure in the guise of his beloved Clara predicts that his death will bring his people freedom. When he awakes, surrounded by soldiers who will conduct him to the gallows, the victory symphony stimulates the audience to contemplate the eventual triumph of Dutch independence, as well as the tragedy of Egmont’s unjust execution.
Clara’s house. Home of Clara (Clärchen), a commoner who loves and is loved by Egmont. The house is clearly a domestic space, in which women sew together and talk of marriage. While Clara’s suitor Brackenburg and her lover Egmont frequent the house, Clara sings of her longing to be a soldier rather than a bride. She and her mother are often drawn to the windows and doors of the house, leaning out to watch marching soldiers. In Clara’s demeanor as well as in her house, private, domestic life is connected to public, political concerns. From her house Clara gives a rousing speech to the citizens, urging them to take up arms to rescue Egmont after he has been imprisoned. Unfortunately it falls on deaf ears, and Clara poisons herself.