This afternoon the Web site for The New York Times posted an article by Jack Ewing reporting what may have been the first live concert to take place since the onset of shelter-in-place as a preventative measure against COVID-19. The article provided a very specific account of how social distancing would be enabled inside the State Theater of Hesse, which served as the venue for a recital by baritone Gunther Groissböck, accompanied at the piano by Alexandra Goloubitskaia. The program consisted of selected songs by Franz Schubert and Gustav Mahler. Groissböck also offered an encore selection of “Wotan’s Farewell,” the concluding scene of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre.
Much of Ewing’s article involved reviewing the many issues that had to be resolved prior to announcing the concert and selling tickets. The chief enabler of the event was Uwe Eric Laufenberg, director of the theater that hosted the recital. Laufenberg’s personal opinions about the pandemic were, to say the least, controversial. However, Ewing also enumerated several factors that made it clear that Hesse is leading the way in “a general return to normal in Germany,” while, at the same time, trying to address issues of risk.
One of those approaches to risk was summarized in one of Ewing’s paragraphs:
Concertgoers were required to wear face coverings to the theater, though they were allowed to remove them once seated. Tickets came without seat assignments, and members of a household could sit together. The theater recorded everyone’s name and address, so they could be contacted later in case someone turned out to be infected.
The one point the article did not address is that conditions inside any venue for performance are only part of the story. The theater was located in Wiesbaden, the capital city of Hesse. This is a large city with almost 300,000 inhabitants. The size of the audience that Ewing reported was “fewer than 200;” but he said nothing about how they got to the venue. Given weather conditions, it is possible that those fortunate enough to attend were all within walking distance, thus avoiding any risks associated with public transportation.
For now this event and those planned for the remainder of the month on a daily basis are likely to provide more data than can be summarized in a Times article. I would hope that those data will be examined by epidemiologists to assess the viability of the plan under current conditions. I suspect that most readers of this site would like nothing more than a chance to return to “live” concert conditions; but one cannot draw conclusions about probabilities and statistics from a single data point. Personally, I am not yet sure how to react to this bold move in a setting that is entirely foreign to me.