How do musical institutions handle cases of COVID-19?

The last 72 hours have been agitated at La Scala in Milan after the positive test of the tenor Francesco Meli, holder of the role of Radames in Aida.

On Sunday, La Scala in Milan announced a piece of news which otherwise would have made people smile: “Due to an indisposition of the tenor Francesco Meli, the role of Radames in Aida from Monday October 19 will be held by Jonas Kaufmann. The Teatro alla Scala thanks Jonas Kaufmann for his kind availability and wishes Francesco Meli a speedy recovery. ┬╗Imagine: the biggest star in the world of lyric singing playing the substitute!

The trap of negativity

However, we learned some time after that Meli had tested positive on Saturday 17 for COVID-19. He told the Italian agency ANSA that he was asymptomatic. At the same time, his colleagues in the cast, La Scala conductor and musical director Riccardo Chailly, at the head, made known their negativity and were delighted to present Aida Monday evening.

It was all going a bit fast. A PCR test detects expression of disease, not infection. If the test caught Francesco Meli on “day 0” of his illness, he was contagious on “D -2”, that is to say the evening of the performance of October 15 and it was a safe bet that the expression of this contagion did not occur. was not yet detectable among his associates on the 17th and would possibly start to emerge on October 19, 20 or 21.

Sadly, this is what happened. The director of La Scala, Dominique Meyer, reached on Sunday by The duty, had assured us that a new test would be carried out before Monday’s performance, and on Monday, at 3 p.m. Milan time, we learned that a second (unspecified) member of the cast was positive and that all were put in quarantine. Aida has been replaced by a concert of great arias and choirs sung by Jonas Kaufmann and the lessopranos Anita Hartig and Aida Garifullina under the direction of Fabio Luisi.

The case is reminiscent of Don Carlo of the opening of the Bolshoi in Moscow in September. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov had tested positive for COVID-19. The performances (scenic while theAida Milanese was performed in concert) were canceled and star Anna Netrebko was delighted about her negative test on social media. Her subsequent Instagram appearance was, alas, from the Moscow hospital, where she was treating covid pneumonia. She was released from the hospital after a few days and resumed her activities. She is expected at … La Scala in Milan tomorrow Wednesday.

La Scala has taken precautions to compartmentalize its activities, alternating concerts, ballet, operas in concert version and scheduling numerous recitals by singing stars. In addition, the very large stage helps with distancing.

Variable policies

Maintaining activities even in the event of a health problem is also what drives the Berlin Comic Opera, which has chosen works that are satisfied with small teams. These teams are doubled or tripled, which allows bubbles to be formed and one bubble to be replaced by another in the event of a problem.

The bubble is also what the Zurich Opera ballet has to some extent chosen for The Sleeping Beauty. The problem is that you only expected one bubble. No replacement team, no ballet in Switzerland at the end of the week …

Others employ more drastic measures. In Hong Kong, a member of the Hong Kong Philharmonic tested positive, the entire Orchestra was quarantined, the building housing the concert hall was closed for disinfection for three days, and the hall itself disinfected and closed. for two weeks. The soloist who was to play Beethoven’s concertos would gladly have given a sonata recital. Impossible.

The bold policy of the Vienna Philharmonic, which we recently reported here, is facilitated by the fact that the institution has 150 members. This allows a “B” team to be mobilized in the event of a problem that fortunately did not arise. Others do not have that elasticity: The Prague Opera had to cancel its opening season due to the quarantine of its choir.

And how is France doing with the curfew? A new life is taking hold. No one seems to be thinking of reducing their activities or their social contacts, but we seem rather concerned about squeezing in between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. their evening activities. The concerts therefore now begin at 6 pm or 6.30 pm It is a fact that in France, as elsewhere (Germany, Switzerland, Austria and even Italy), we have not reported anywhere for more than four months of infections in the public, disciplined, shows and concerts.

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