Barcelona Liceu: Reclaiming the Soul of Performance During Covid19
By Liam Klenk
Sometimes, I close my eyes and time-travel into my memories, to moments onstage. A whole arena buzzing with life, stunt vehicle engines roaring, acrobats soaring through the air. I travel to a theater-in-the-round, alive with actual rain, water jets, and geysers. With a formidable cast, magically appearing from the water onto the stage or disappearing back into the aquatic depths. Other times, I see an opera house in my mind’s eye, with sparkling gold interior. Classical music envelops me for hours, intense drama unfolds on stage. Or, I remember a rock concert, ten thousand people sing together, cheer, stomp, shout “encore” until the band comes back on stage for a couple more songs.
These are just memories from being an audience member. I won’t even go into the details of my life backstage. Those many moments of magic. That intense mix of utmost discipline and creativity. My heartbeat speeding up as I hear “This is your 15-minute call.” “This is your 10-minute call.” “This is your 5-minute call.” And then, “2 minutes and places please, 2 minutes and places pleeeaaase” on headset.
Moments of pure joy, focus, and dedication.
Needless to say, it was heartbreaking over the last few months to see one entertainment venue after another succumb to Covid19. Door after door closed. Most of my peers in the entertainment industry lost their jobs.
Like many in our community, I battled the flood of disheartening news and increasing uncertainty. I tried to keep busy, and latched onto anything on the Internet which made me laugh or brought me a sense of hope.
How wondrous then, to see Barcelona’s Liceu opera house re-open on June 22nd 2020.
The announcement in the house sounded as it always had, “Welcome to the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Out of consideration for the audience and performers, kindly switch off your mobile phones and refrain from taking pictures during the show. Please also avoid any other noise that can spoil other people’s enjoyment. Thank you very much.” This was followed by strange beeping noises, signaling the start of the performance. The screens on the four music stands on stage turned on, illuminating the stage gently. The house lights dimmed down. Then four musicians walked on stage and bowed to the audience. They bowed to a full house.
Every seat was taken – by 2,292 plants.
You can watch the YouTube recording of the performance by clicking on the link at the end of this article. How amazing to see musicians serenading what looked like an entire jungle of intently listening plants.
The event was an idea of conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia. His ‘Concert for the Biocene’ featured a string quartet rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s “Crisantemi” (which translates into “chrysanthemums”). Ampudia wanted to promote a better relationship with the plant kingdom. He wanted to provoke thoughts about the current state of the human condition. And the changing audience experience during the Covid19 lockdown.
Thus, plants from greenhouses all over town were invited to enjoy this unique musical experience.
The Catalan newspaper ‘Vanguardia’ reported that since the Atlantic crossing of Greta Thunberg, no event for the benefit of greater ecological awareness had ever attracted this much global attention.
Eugenio Ampudia said, “At a time when an important part of humankind has shut itself up in enclosed spaces, and been obliged to relinquish movement, nature has crept forward to occupy the spaces we have ceded. And it has done so at its own rhythm, according to its patient biological cycle. Can we broaden our empathy and bring it to bear not just on us but on other species as well? Let’s start by using art and music and inviting nature into a great concert hall.”
Watching the video brought tears to my eyes. Ampudia’s soulful message to both humankind and the plant kingdom projected hope and positivity as Puccini’s “Crisantemi” was performed with mastery and sensitivity.
As the musicians stepped to the edge of the stage for their final bow, plant leaves rustled, and pre-recorded rustling sounds as well as applause rose to a full crescendo.
After the performance, the 2,292 plants were given to the doctors and nurses of Barcelona’s largest hospital, the ‘Clinic’, in a symbolic gesture of gratitude for all healthcare workers in the country. They all had fought with the most difficult circumstances during the pandemic. They had worked tirelessly and risked their lives on a daily basis.