Why the double standard? asks opera star

Why the double standard? asks opera star


norman lebrecht

May 19, 2020

The international baritone Michael Volle has juxtaposed two current photographs.

On the left you can see a flight today from Berlin to Frankfurt, every seat taken.

On the right is the Wiesbaden Opera House, the audience widely distanced.

Double standards, anyone?


  • London Cellist says:

    I wholly concur. Whatever joke of a lockdown the UK had in the first place, it has completely broken down and I find it increasingly hard to justify throwing industries like entertainment and hospitality under the bus whilst it’s a total free for all for everyone else. Either enforce the lockdown properly or let us get back to work and save whatever is left of our industry.

    • Anon says:

      It’s not just the UK.
      It’s everywhere.

    • V.Lind says:

      I am not sure whether it’s time to end lockdown, but I certainly do not understand this kowtowing to the airline industry.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        It certainly ought to be relaxed now it is clear that the health system in Europe can cope, and the virus is less dangerous than was feared two months ago. However, we will have to relax the lockdown in small steps, always checking that we still have things under control.

    • BrianB says:

      The loss of the Proms for one would be terrible. During the war when bombs were falling on London and even their home, Queen’s Hall, was destroyed, they kept going.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        The Proms will go ahead in some form. The hall and orchestra have already been paid for. And the BBC are desperate for some content to play on the radio. The question is whether any kind of audience will be allowed into the venue.

  • klavileitung says:

    I think distancing between seats is not required because air is renewed in airplanes every 3 minutes. But you should wear a mask.

    • Jack says:

      Also, major airlines are saying that they screen passengers for symptoms before boarding. That said, I’m not sure I’m ready for air travel under these conditions. I’ve picked up more than one cold while on a flight.

      • Bruce says:

        Airplanes were already petri dishes long before COVID came along. I’ve read that opening the vents to allow more fresh air during a flight cuts into fuel efficiency, so airlines have an interest in keeping ventilation as poor as possible. That was some time ago; maybe planes are built better now.

        Many times, I have gone somewhere for an audition, stayed for 2 days, and woken up with a cold the day after returning. Thinking back, that probably means I picked up the virus on my outbound trip and was spreading it asymptomatically on my way back. (Or even better: maybe I’d been infected before leaving, and was spreading it over the entire trip…) If it was just a cold, then that’s just an inconvenience; if it was something worse, then that’s… worse.

        And then of course you have to keep in mind that I was exchanging air with people on more than one flight: Spokane to Chicago, say, and Chicago to Pittsburgh, and then again on the way back. And who knows where all my flightmates were headed: those big hubs like Chicago and Denver (or Frankfurt) take people all over the world.

        “We’re all in this together,” indeed.

    • Dave says:

      The air is only partially “renewed” by the air conditioning. Social distancing in an airliner is a nonsense, but of course it’s about money and the transport sector is much more important in that respect than the arts…

    • Michael Güttler says:

      It is true that the air condition in a modern plane filters quite effectively. But in case of someone sneezing or coughing in the row behind you it doesn’t help at all.

    • Anon says:

      “I think” We shouldn’t make public health decisions based on what a lazy person thinks. Cite a source.

    • Ramesh Nair says:

      Yes. In commercial aircraft the air is filtered every few minutes. The airflow can be directed downwards to the floor and then into HEPA filters ( high efficiency particulate filters– similar to N95+ masks ), which remove 99+% of viral particles. In the past, airlines did not replace the HEPA filters on a daily basis ( I believe they were cleaned and eventually replaced on a timetable up to each carrier ), but presumably this is done so now. Wearing masks and minimising food and drink in the flights are also effective and reducing aerosol spread.

      The actual double standard is that the risk of any respiratory infection during air travel is very low as soon as one steps into the airliner, where the air is filtered frequently. The risk is significant at the airport, especially where there are long lines of people ie during embarkation, disembarkation, customs and immigration. Readers may recall that when the USA was closing/restricting its airspace there were wall-to-wall crowds of disembarked passengers in East Coast airports who’d arrived from Europe. Customs, immigration and health checks at snails pace caused a perfect infectious storm when passengers were crammed into dense crowds for hours in the corridors where there was essentially no air filtration.

      • Bruce says:

        “Customs, immigration and health checks at snails pace caused a perfect infectious storm when passengers were crammed into dense crowds for hours in the corridors where there was essentially no air filtration.”

        ^ And then of course, most of those people got onto domestic flights to go all over the US…

  • Araragi says:

    People have gotten so silly about social distancing. I was recently chastised at the supermarket by a fellow shopper for not keeping 6 feet distance from him. Moments later I saw him in the check out line standing only about a foot away from several others checking out, apparently totally unconcerned with the *grave peril* in which he was placing himself (and his fellow shoppers). Endeavoring to maintain social distance is understandable and I do the same. But if you go out, you will inevitably come uncomfortably close to someone else from time to time. If you can’t handle that, simply stay home. As Tolkien said, it’s a dangerous business leaving your front door.

    • Jack says:

      True. I think people are just quite on edge right now, at least where I live. So testiness is going to be part of the landscape for now. I try to silently remind myself to be extra polite and deferential. The opposite isn’t really productive under any circumstances.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        I don’t know where you live, but where I am most people seem bored and fairly relaxed about social distancing compared to a month ago.

    • Brian says:

      I have had nutters in the supermarket shouting keep away from me and Iam nowhere near them. We go shopping early before it gets busy when the store
      Is practically empty.

      • Araragi says:

        I have a 24 hour market a couple of blocks from my apartment so I go at 2 am. There are not many people there at that time but the ones who are tend to be the most militant about social distancing.

  • Algot says:

    We will all get the Corona Virus, sooner or later, don’t kid yourself. If you are in OK shape, it’s nothing, trust me, I had it and I’m 64. If you’re overweight, worry … Sorry.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Sorry, but about half of us will end up getting it and half will not.

      Most people will have few or no symptoms (many reading this will have had it without realising it). But some people end up with serious symptoms. They are mostly people already in poor health but occasionally a person in good health will end up very sick even if they are very unlikely to die.

  • Peter says:

    Well… UK should know best, because taking distancing measures very late got them to the highest rate of infections and deaths in Europe… even more than in Italy.
    I would not call it double standard, but I would call it a complete irresponsibility to travel at this stage by airplane.
    Speaking of, when travelling by plane the air is recirculated so it does not matter if there are 5 or 100 passengers inside because all are breathing the same air, and we cannot say the same about opera houses/concert halls/other venues.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      Without a test for antibodies nobody knows what the actual infection rate is in the UK. We only know those who have the virus and modelling is based on that figure, but it could be much higher. Who knows? As for the mortality rate, from everything I’ve read & heard it would seem that the way Corvid-19 deaths are recorded in the UK is different from some other countries. We include community/hospital/care home deaths. Is that the case with other countries? Is it a notifiable disease in all other European countries? If I have a heart attack and am rushed to hospital, where I contract Covid-19, and I die from a second massive heart attack I will still be listed as a Covid-19 death. Is that correct? The average annual death rate from seasonal flu is around 17,000 in the UK. This figure is reduced to c.8,000 when those with serious health problems, which would/could have killed them within a year, are removed. Isn’t it likely therefore that the mortality rate for Covid-19 will be considerably reduced?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The death rate in Britain, Spain and Italy is very similar. But that means these countries are well on the way to herd immunity.

  • Realist says:

    Oh, I dunno, maybe because at least some travel is essential, and going to the opera is not?

    • Alexy says:

      I just think the opposite. Mankind lived with the need of music for millennia and started to fly 100 years ago, massively only 10-20. I can miss travelling not music

  • sam says:

    Really? Taking best corporate practices from the airline industry?

    In that case, let’s
    – increase concert hall capacity by squeezing twice as many seats in and halving the width of the chairs and aisle space, charge for coat check by weight and number/dimension of items
    – hire only young female musicians, retire them by 45, make them work 12 hour shifts overnight
    – cancel concerts just before they begin, or just delay them for 3 hours while requiring the audience to remain seated with no one allowed to go to the toilet

    There is no double standard. The airline industry doesn’t care about you. Symphonies and operas presumably do.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      As a working-class kid the idea of flying by plane to anywhere was zero: it was for people with money to spare. Thanks in part to low cost operators air travel became affordable for a lot more people. Why is that so wrong? I regularly use budget airlines to see opera productions abroad and I have never had a bad experience.

  • Brian says:

    One difference between the two photos: The audience at the opera tends to be over 60 or even 70, and is known to cough a lot. As a whole it’s more susceptible to the coronavirus than a more mixed group of airplane passengers.

    That said, I don’t think I’d risk spending 2 or 3 hours in either situation at the moment.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Many people are happy to take the flight. And I suspect that there are also many people who would be happy to go to a concert. Why do you think that just because you don’t want to go to a concert that nobody else should.

  • Alviano says:

    Obviously, the airlines have more clout than the arts.

  • Mark Perlman says:

    Well, for one thing, the average age of opera audience members is about 65 (well into high risk group for COVID), whereas the average age of plane travelers is much less. For another, if seniors and high-risk people have any sense, none of them are in planes these days.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      A quote from Lord Sumption in last Sunday’s Times:
      ‘By most estimates, between 0.5% and 0.75% of infected persons die. Of those, 87% are over 65 and at least 90% have multiple causes only one of which is Covid-19, according to the Office for National Statistics.’ In the UK at present most infections occur in care homes and in hospitals not in the wider community. If the mortality rate decreases because of successful treatments in reducing the more severe symptoms and we maintain the current excess capacity in critical care beds, getting patients to those beds earlier than has often been the case,, then we will not need to wait for a vaccine before we return to ‘normal’ life.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Many people believe the rate at which people die is even lower than those figures.

        And it should be obvious to all but the most delusionally optimistic that we really can’t sit around waiting for a vaccine. We would be likely to wait for years.

  • ML says:

    Music lovers’ lives are more precious and valuable. 😉

  • fflambeau says:

    The airlines are necessary elements of capitalism. The opera house, no.

  • PHF says:

    Let’s address the reason of the double standard: nobody makes an effort for culture but for travelling yes (generally by necessity in this current situation). Cut where people will feel/need less. Culture is not mandatory in short term for anyone (for some it never is), especially now with streaming happening for everything.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I would have avoided that flight, but also the performance in the opera house. We all have to wait patiently for the vaccine.

  • Herman Calpin says:

    Not a fair comparison; airplanes have powerful air purification systems and theatres are typically just the opposite.

  • viola joke says:

    If you compare both photographs: it is the same people sitting in the plane from Berlin to Frankfurt who are visiting the opera performance in Wiesbaden later in the day.

    • Novagerio says:

      Viola joke: Isn’t it a bit different to sit one or two hours in a can of sardines with somebody sneezing or coughing next to or infront of you, rather than keeping a few seats distance in a theater?…

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Surely, sir, in the circumstances: Wheezebaden.

  • Trevor Holmes says:

    Isn’t Wiesbaden Opera House currently closed to performances? This comparison is slightly misleading perhaps?

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    If every audience member wears a face mask, doesn’t touch the person next to them, doesn’t touch their own face and has a bottle of hand sanitizer with them I don’t see why even one metre (WHO) separation is necessary. Just look at all those shop workers in food stores in the UK, who’ve beek working since the partial lockdown.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Er…distance is likely to make more difference than the face-mask, hand sanitizer etc.

      Most shop workers in the UK would have been exposed to the virus multiple times.

  • Dave says:

    I recently had a hospital operation done. Walking down the hallway I saw hospital staff walking side by side without masks. In the pre operation room we were all packed in together. There was no keeping six feet apart. If the hospitals don’t maintain the rules, who will?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Masks really make very little difference. It is really virtue signalling and a palliative to those people who have managed to terrify themselves (now it is obvious they are not about to run out of toilet paper).

  • TrainsRbetter says:

    Why would anyone even bother flying between Berlin & Frankfurt? It‘s 4hrs on a Train, so with getting to the airport airport & Check-in time, you don’t gain that much time for the extra inconvenience.