Opera ‘can help cure war trauma’

Opera ‘can help cure war trauma’


norman lebrecht

October 29, 2019

A former soldier tells the Daily Telegraph that going to the opera helped him recover from PTSD.

Guess he hasn’t seen much Birtwistle yet. Or any modern German productions.


Not to mention Lucia.

Or Wozzeck.


  • Brettermeier says:

    I cannot imagine “Einstein on the Beach” being of much help either.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Entirely correct assessment.

    But essential is the specific opera such patient attends. Parisfal seems to be the best option: through suffering to redemption, with gorgeous music, and seductive ladies on the side.

  • Steven Holloway says:

    I don’t know whether the post’s observation re the Telegraph story is supposed to be a droplet of glib humour or a droplet of, putatively, operatic erudition. But I do know that this could have been an opportunity to address music therapy, its foundation, methods, and efficacy. Some of us think PTSD and music therapy are not to be chuckled at or dismissed as lightly as NL seems to think, albeit lack of thought is the problem here once again.

    • Chris says:

      Couldn’t agree more Steven – NL you should not make light of what can be a life-threatening condition.

    • V.Lind says:

      Entirely agree. This soldier expresses sincere appreciation of something that has helped him with a dreadful and emotionally scarring experience. As someone who has attended many operas I did not actually love, I still am awed by the experience of it, and for someone to diminish composers or productions he did not care for only diminishes what an art he professes to love can offer someone responding viscerally.

      It also signally misses the point.

  • Novagerio says:

    Or Die Soldaten…

  • Allen says:

    All we need now is a cure for Post Theatre Stress Disorder.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Hilarious……! PTSD, offered after traumatic attendance of too many Regietheater productions. (Adverts in the programme booklet.)

  • Don Fatale says:

    Tsk! Cue the snide and superior comments, with the snidemeister himself kicking things off. But anyway, thanks for linking to the article.

    Perhaps the UK opera companies could set up a ticket access scheme and some promotion so that more former (or indeed current) servicemen can benefit from the beauty and catharsis that great opera can provide. I can’t think of a more deserving cause.

  • Bruce says:

    My [very limited] understanding of PTSD is that recovery involves going through the trauma again, but in small, manageable, controlled doses in a non-threatening environment.

    Seems like the opera, with its frequent but small and controlled doses of violence and death, usually packaged in beautiful music, could be an ideal form of informal therapy. Cracks about Birtwhistle and Regietheater aside, emotional catharsis is much of the reason “normal” people go to the opera anyway.

    If watching characters die onstage was truly traumatizing, then Carmen, Tosca, Macbeth, Salome, etc etc etc etc would never be staged (and would probably never even have been written).

  • Lydia Wahlberg says:

    Or Mrs Kaufman’s new mess.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Classic playwrights understood catharsis but had traumatic events happen off-stage. The music-cure wotks, or helps when it does not. Empathy and pity play a part. Siegmund and Siegfried have a place among the examples.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The therapeutic effect of opera is in the way things happening on stage are given an ordered meaning in the music, which harmonizes any traumatic experience as something that has meaning in a higher sense, even if this meaning is impossible to grasp, it is an emotional process of reconciliation.

  • Sharon says:

    At a time when I felt that the circumstances of my life, and myself, were spinning out of control I found watching dance on stage very therapeutic. Watching all that controlled energy put me in an environment where I felt order and control and gave me hope that things could become more controlled in my life, which they did.
    Sometimes off-off Broadway productions, especially in a small “black box” theater, help me feel that I am interacting more with people when I am feeling a little lonely.
    I can certainly understand how watching someone else’s trauma in a controlled environment and especially around beautiful music which is always therapeutic can be very therapeutic, especially in an opera where goodness or justice somehow triumphs in the end.
    I recently read an article in The Atlantic about a reporter who was on a rescue ship picking up refugees in the Mediterranean. She said that the starved refugees some of whom had been tortured in Libya were singing love songs as a way of self soothing.
    I also remember seeing a film where Leonard Cohen used music to calm an angry crowd
    For centuries lullabies were used to calm infants and of course music can calm even “the savage beast”.
    I have frequently seen calm people and improve mood at the psychiatric hospital where I work.
    We definitely need more study of music therapy as a very serious psychiatric therapy. I believe that in many cases it can be more effective than talk therapy or even medication.