Opera stars say ‘break quarantine’, citing packed flights but near-empty concert halls

20 May 2020, 18:13 | Updated: 21 May 2020, 08:24

Social distancing in aircrafts vs. opera houses
Social distancing in aircrafts vs. opera houses. Picture: Michael Volle/Instagram

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

One soprano threatened to sing on a flight, to make a point about social distancing.

As world leaders navigate how to bring their countries out of coronavirus lockdown, opera stars are calling out the way concert halls are being advised to implement social distancing for their audiences, compared to passengers on airlines.

This week in Germany, one of the first attempts to revive live music took place. At Wiesbaden’s opera house, three empty seats separated every occupied one as baritone Michael Volle, soprano Gabriela Scherer and pianist Julia Okruashvili performed a recital of Wagner and Strauss arias and duets.

After the concert, Volle took to Instagram to share a photo of the audience at Monday’s recital, placing it beside an image of passengers on his flight the day before. The side-by-side comparison shows a stark contrast between the physical distancing being enforced in concert halls, and the equivalent for air travel.

“This was the amount of visitors in the stalls,” he captioned the below image, taken at the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden opera house by chief conductor Patrick Lange. “More is not allowed!!!”

“BUT…” he continued, referring to a second image (below), “In our plane it seems to be absolutely normal to sit close to each other. One of the many irresolvable and not understandable questions of our days.”

Read more: Airline refuse to board these musicians with their instruments. They protest in the best way >

Bulgarian operatic soprano Sonya Yoncheva weighed in, reposting Volle’s photos on Twitter and adding: “I want the [World Health Organisation], as well as all our presidents and ministers, [to] explain us this! In my next flight I am going to stand up and sing in front of the passengers, because there YES isn’t any risk of contamination?

“Culture is of high existential necessity! Bring it back to people!”

One of the most high-profile figures to condemn the regulations is soprano Anna Netrebko. The Russian opera star posted a similar image of the Wiesbaden auditorium, saying: “Really? This is how our life is gonna be till spring?!?!?! I think, whoever decided that rules has to vanish! #bringcultureback!!! #stopstupidrules #breakquarantine”.

It’s understandable that the world’s great artists want to bring live music back – and to the biggest audience possible. We all miss going to concerts, and the communion of experiencing music together. But we can all agree it has to happen in a format that’s safe for everyone.

Click here for the latest coronavirus advice from the NHS >

Wiesbaden, whose neo-Baroque auditorium normally holds 1,000 but accommodated less than 200 at Monday’s recital, could serve as a model for other venues, if successful.

According to the New York Times, concertgoers were all required to wear face coverings, which they were allowed to remove once seated. Tickets came without seat assignments, and members of the same household could sit together. The theatre took down everyone’s name and address, so they could be contacted later in case someone turned out to have the virus.

Currently, the German Airport Association (ADV) advises that all travellers at German airports are required to wear face masks while waiting to board, and while boarding. With the recommended guidelines in place, the ADV said it expected airports initially to serve between 20 and 50 percent of their normal capacity.