Top baritone leads legal action against Covid closure

Top baritone leads legal action against Covid closure


norman lebrecht

December 06, 2020

The international baritone Christian Gerhaher is spearheading a group that has filed legal action against the Bavarian Government for ordering the total closure of concert halls and opera houses.

Others who have joined him in the action group are two singers, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke and Kevin Conners, and the Munich Bach Choir director, Hansjörg Albrecht.

This could be interesting.

UPDATE: Press conference Monday at noon. Report here.


  • Matthias Goerne says:

    Very good news.
    Thank you so much.

    • Theo says:

      Pray tell me what the good news is, Matthias. That he can’t sing or that he lost his mind?

    • GertK says:

      Colleagues trying to get infections up, because they find themselves so much more important than the lives of others, is that really good news?

    • David Spence says:

      How it is you can, Matthias, sing with some of the most intelligent conductors in the world – Jurowski (in spite of his Wozzeck with you being completely dull – bad staging!), Metzmacher, Nagano, Nott (a wonderful Kindertotenlieder conducted by both of the last two and you can speak here like such a blooming idiot!

  • Emil says:

    Does he know there’s a pandemic going on?

    • Michael Güttler says:

      Yes, he knows. Everyone knows. And everyone able to read statistics and thinking logically could understand, that classic music venues (especially with the very sophisticated ways of infection prevention the have used in Germany and Austria) are by no means risky places and are NOT to make responsible for the increase of infection rates. It is easy to make a quick research and to find the evidence, from Salzburg Festival, Vienna Opera, Munich Opera, Wiesbaden etc.. Closing them has NO effect regarding the infection rate, but heavy side effects for the single (especially free lanced) artist. It’s a completely symbolic policy doing much more harm than good.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Can you you please back up you claims with any links? Whatever I have read from epidemiologists points is diametrically opposed.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        Didn’t the Salzburg Festival close after contact tracing revealed infection propagation there? I seem to recall that, but perhaps my memory is at fault.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        I see the tide is finally starting to turn on completely abandoning your nation’s economy to save people from Covid-19. Lufthansa said yesterday there would be ‘thousands’ of job losses if the airline remained partially grounded for much longer. At the very least you can expect ticket prices for travel to dip at first (to get people back on board) then absolutely soar.

        Protect people who are vulnerable but go about your lives. The natives are becoming increasingly restive about all this and I don’t blame them.

      • Bill says:

        Hopefully you are better at stick-wiggling.

      • Hilary says:

        Even the Hollywood Bowl ( outdoor and therefore as safe as you can wish for ) is closed.

      • Emil says:

        Look, Michael, I want music and art as much as anyone else. I was fortunate enough to attend a concert at the Pierre-Boulez-Saal last summer, which was immensely invigorating after months without in-person music. But this is a pandemic and exceptional measures have to be taken. Should governments heavily subsidize arts organisations, make furlough/salary replacement schemes available to artists and arts workers, etc.? Absolutely.
        But when we’re talking about live performance, it’s about way more than simply the artists and the audience. It’s about the infrastructure to get them there – the public transport, the restaurants, etc. And it’s about the wider society – you can’t consider an opera house as a single institution, outside of its implication in wider society. Can you imagine perceptions if opera houses were to open, but not cinemas? Symphony halls, but not football stadiums? Honestly, people are having funerals on Zoom right now.
        And finally, yes, things went well in Salzburg last summer. We’re not last summer. Cases have spiked, it’s winter, people are indoors, and hospitals are full. This is not the time.
        So, for the good of everyone, bide your time. We all do. Demand more government money. Demand jobs protections. But not this, not now.

        • April says:

          Totally agree with all of it.
          In Europe a lot of people travel to opera houses on busses, trams etc., not cars. A lot of people in big cities do not even have cars. It is not just about the performance, but about everything else around it.

          • Tamino says:

            People are free to take the tram to go to shopping centers for non-essential shopping. But concert halls and opera houses are closed. It is that uncultered madness and hypocrisy that triggers Gerhaher et al’s call for action. It is about the (wrong) ideals the German government is preaching with their actions. Also churches remain open. Why have churches higher priority than concert halls? In the 21st century, not the 15th century that is!

        • Robin Smith says:

          Agree with most of that but it’s not government money. It’s other tax payers money.

        • Hilary says:

          Among the most reasonable posts I’ve read on the subject .

        • Michael Güttler says:

          Well, Emil, you absolutely have a point mentioning the public transport, the restaurants and so on. In fact, the public transport in Germany and Austria (in all my posts I refer to these two countries only, I am living and working there and I feel entitled to say a word) has NO “hygiene concept” AT ALL (except wearing masks) and it’s rather easy to find current images of crammed tubes, trains, buses and so on. They are full EVERYDAY ! There is, of course, NO concept and NO possibility of tracking infected people. The theaters, on the contrary had a limited access, very strong hygienic measures and it had been possible to track EVERY visitor. And they have PROVEN that it worked. Strange enough, theaters, opera houses etc. are down at the moment and the public transport suffers no restricting measures at all. They are crammed EVERY day and nobody has a clue, if he had been traveling near an infected person or not. The CEO of the German Railway had been asked to elaborate an infection prevention concept similar to what they have in Italy. He denied, saying there is no proof of elevated infection risk. Nothing changed. What he said is rather identical to what directors of opera hoses said. The difference: They can prove it and he, not collecting data, has no clue, but pretends anyway. I could go on and on with examples. Just one: Did you know that nurses and doctors with a positive test result but without symptoms HAVE to continue working in the hospitals and retirement homes ? Closing the opera houses, theaters etc. INSTEAD of developing effective measures regarding REAL hotspots has been a rather easy move WITHOUT relevant results.

          • Emil says:

            The fact that governments should find better ways to manage other hotspots is not an argument in favour of reversing the policies they have already implemented. On the contrary: public places such as theatres should remain closed *and* governments need to do a better job of managing hotspots.

            In fact, arguing that public transport is already a transmission risk, so why not add a few opera-goers in the mix strikes me as an odd argument. The priority should be to *reduce* contacts in public, not to increase them because the risk is there anyway.

      • Maria says:

        So you know something very specific that all the scientific experts in the world don’t know. Bavaria and Austria in general is very virus infected. It takes far more people than a singer getting up to sing to put on a concert plus all the people who do the sanitising before and after, risking their health if not their lives. At least in Britain we start vaccinating tomorrow and so some light at the end of this very long tunnel. But writing as you do does you no favours and sadly says far more about you than the virus that knows no boundaries or has a week off for Christmas.

    • GertK says:

      He doesn’t even know he’s in need of a few singing lessons.

    • Rob says:


      Millions dead, flights grounded, masks everywhere, the entire human race facing extinction………….. and wait for it…………………

      The vaccine is NOT MANDATORY !!!

      Mmmmmmm, I must have missed something! ???

      • Tamino says:

        What hyperbole, there is not even excess mortality in many parts of Germany. Get real. Take a deep breath. It’s a pandemic, but humanity has seen worse and will prevail. For a change, find out the number of people dying EVERY Year before Covid, from preventable diseases. You are in for a surprise.

    • Karl says:

      Do you know that Germany is supposedly a free country? People who fear covid can stay safely in their homes and people who do not fear it should be able to do as they wish.

  • christopher storey says:

    The naivete of some of these comments is breathtaking . If Austria’s precautions are so sophisticated, why has its infection rate spiralled upwards to such a degree ?

    • Hermann Lederer says:

      Definitely not because they closed the cultural venues

    • opera lover says:

      I visited Germany and Austria in October, right before the infection rates spiralled. There were crowds on the streets and in the restaurants, mostly without masks. Munich opera was so much safer – like an island of safety, in a way.

    • Michael Güttler says:

      In fact, theaters, cinemas, opera houses, restaurants etc. are closed for weeks now. Public transport is open, shops are open, flights are open etc. etc. So we know definitely now (actually most of us knew before already), where the infections DIDN’T take place. Does the bell ring ? Or is it too naive for you ?

      • Emil says:

        Michael, the people who go to the opera also take public transport. No one spends 24 hours a day in the opera – you can’t consider operagoers as if they. How do people get to the opera? The whole point of restrictions is to minimize contacts and people moving around. Someone taking the tram to the opera and back, that’s 2 extra journeys. Someone walking to the opera – even from their car – is an unnecessary journey. Staff going to work at the opera – a cleaner, an usher, support staff, artists – are unnecessarily at risk (should they be paid, with government support? Yes, of course). The whole objective is to reduce the density of people flow – and to that end people going to the opera, the theatre, the cinema, football, pubs, restaurants, increase the density of people moving around, and risks all around.
        Finally, flights require quaranting and testing. And there are demands to avoid unnecessary travel. So everyone is expected to avoid excessive contacts (and again, people are dying in hospital with their relatives on Facetime, and funerals are taking place on Zoom).
        Opera, music, theatre and the arts are part of society. And stakeholders should not forget that.

        • SVM says:

          Paradoxically, reducing *all* travel may actually be bad for the vulnerable. In normal times, the clinically vulnerable have a significantly lower *relative* mobility than the healthy, and are thus less exposed to infectious disease. Now that everybody is being restricted indiscriminately, the *relative* mobility of the vulnerable increases (because healthy people are travelling a lot less). As a result, the vulnerable are potentially *more* likely to catch COVID-19 than they might have been had counterinfection measures been more carefully targeted.

          COVID-19 is very infectious, and we are long past the time when ‘containment’ was a reaslistic option (expect perhaps in some *very* isolated parts of the world) — regardless of the severity of measures taken, it is inevitable that the majority of the population *will* catch COVID-19 (or have already had it at some point, possibly without realising it). As a society, we should be focussing on ensuring that this majority does *not* include the most vulnerable.

          Sources (written by medical experts):

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Why assume the infection rate would not have been higher without measures?
      Canada has roughly 1/3 the infection or death rates of the US.

      • Michael Güttler says:

        Well, Teatro Real in Madrid has NOT closed the last months when there started a second wave(together with most of the other theaters in that city). They had strong measures anyway in the town, but obviously focused a bit more on the real (!!) hotspots. They were quite efficient and successful, figures are in decline.

        • Doofus1714 says:

          Dear Misters Güttler u. Gerharer.
          As difficult as it must be to imagine a world without your great talents, this situation WILL get better with the forthcoming Impfung. Why oh why is there a need to subject employees of concert halls and opera houses to infection. my wife works for the opera in Wien and there were infections among the singers..some rather serious..and this is with rather stringent rules. Yes, among the public at Salzburg there were no infections, but among the orchestras? Singers?
          Why oh why risk it?
          For art?
          Art will continue when it is safe for everyone.
          There are more important issues in the world evidently than your art.

          • Tamino says:

            The irony of your statement is: all human activity would have to had ceased for the whole history of mankind. Of course also no artistic activity since Adam and Eva. Because only for a few decades, and mostly thanks to modern pharmaceutical research, have we achieved a security from infectious diseases that allows us to leave the house and think about artistic activities.
            Those artists in the Middle Ages and even up to the 19th century: all mad selfish people, disregarding the dangers of rampant infectious diseases around them.
            Thank you for your wisdom that there were more important issues in the world than their art.
            But, tell me, why actually is almost all we worship about those times, made by artists? What is humanity all about?
            Shall we burn all art that was created in times when excess mortality was hundreds of times higher than these days with Covid-19?

  • Amos says:

    Hopefully, the litigants’ expertise in musical matters far exceeds their public health acumen. How many choruses and choirs have to experience mass infections before the obvious precautions are supported? Maskless rallies held by our soon to be ex-president alone have accounted for tens of thousands of infections. Vaccines are on the way; for once listen to people with genuine expertise. PS Avoid taking the ” russian vaccine”.

  • GertK says:

    If there’s one advantage to the closure of concert halls, it’s that we don’t have to listen to Gerhaher for a while. “Top baritone”, not really no.

  • Jutta Ittner says:

    I attended “Macbeth” and “Dichterliebe” in early November, and I’ve not felt safer during my three-week stay in Munich.
    Nationaltheater: A mature, educated, cooperative audience that’s spaced apart more than double the recommended distance, masked during the entire performance, and asked not to mingle during intermission. Gärtnerplatztheater: The Lied cycle enriched by more Schumann so as to alternate between the male and female perspectives and choreographed so only one is on stage at any given time while the other one is hidden behind a screen. Singing about love, loneliness, and the frustration that life doesn’t give us what we so desire can’t be more touching, ironic, and meaningful.

  • Tenor S. T. Cadaver says:

    This could be entertaining – opera singers file legal action against the Government for ordering the total closure of concert halls and opera houses claiming “classic music venues are by no means risky places and are NOT to make responsible for the increase of infection rates” “ Closing them has NO effect regarding the infection rate” it is just “symbolic policy”.

    Great that those opera singers have not lost their spirits to entertain people even in the middle of the pandemic and lockdown

  • shameful and frivolous action by someone who should know better

  • Lancelot Spratt says:

    Gerhaher studied medicine, so he should be well aware of the airborne transmission of viruses in confined spaces. A recent paper reported transmission up to 5m in hospital wards. Read Nick Wilson’s editorial in BMJ. Those fools in WHO denied person to person transmission at the start of the pandemic until they were proved wrong.

  • Lancelot Spratt says:

    On the issue of vaccination. The UK regulatory, MHRA has foolishly jumped the gun and given temporary approval for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, under regulation 174 of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 even before EMA and FDA. These regulations were recently amended by the UK government to allow this unwise action. Pfizer, apart from a press release, have not published any data from their phase III trial in a peer reviewed medical journal. This has seriously undermined public confidence.

    Furthermore, the manufacturer is unable to say how long the immunity lasts, whether it prevents viral transmission and what are the vaccine’s possible unintended effects and adverse reactions, eg immune enhancement. The current trials were not designed to show the vaccine saves lives or improves health outcomes eg by reducing hospital admissions.

    The UK’s vaccination programme plans to commence with those frail and elderly folk residing in care homes, most of whom have comorbidities, eg COPD, CHD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s etc. These patients frequently react badly to medication, alas it seems this is being ignored. However it should be made clear that no one can be vaccinated without obtaining informed consent. Most if not all care home residents will have relatives and carers who hold Power of Attorney.

    Woe betide anyone who does not obtain consent from them!

    • Doc Martin says:

      Yes, Sir Lancelot, I attended your Royal Society lecture on Covid-19. You have hit the nail on the head.

      If you went to a VW dealer to buy a new Golf and they told you, you could have any colour and engine size, however we cannot say the brakes work, nor how far you can drive on a full gas tank, you would not buy one.

      Similarly, why would anyone agree to receive a novel vaccine which has no evidence of efficacy in peer review, especially if they could not say how long the immunity lasts or if it prevents sars-cov-2 transmission and have no idea what the long term adverse effects are!

    • Robin Hood says:

      Yes they seemed to imply folk in care homes will get it whether they like it or not. I had a relative whom I rescued from one of those dreadful places, due to over medication! I had Power of Attorney. I am campaigning for a ban on Diazepam etc in care homes! The Pfizer vaccine has no validity in any medical literature. They are just following press releases, not the science!

    • Rumpole says:

      The number of FOI requests MHRA is currently receiving on cov-19 vaccines is astronomical, so much for their transparency. Mine have all gone to ICO for adjudication, since MHRA gives excuses eg “Not in the Public interest”. I shall not agree to a vaccine which has not appeared in a peer reviewed publication.

  • Lancelot Spratt says:

    I am sorry to say he is wasting his money. He is trying to defend a hopeless position.

  • St. Patrick's Aunt says:

    During the current pestilence, I prefer to listen to Gerhaher on my gramophone, much safer, travel has become far too expensive and risky. I cannot fit my portmanteau into the Easyjet overhead locker and in any case they charge you extra.

  • Rumpole says:

    He has absolutely no chance of winning, no judge would find for him.

  • Birchley Poundbottom says:

    I have a rock that keeps both the illness and tigers away, and that rock is a MASK.

    • Lancelot Spratt says:

      Indeed those vaccines have no evidence of efficacy in peer review. Press release claims and rushed temporary approval by MHRA only undermine public confidence. Pfizer cannot confirm how long immunity lasts or whether it prevents transmission or what the likely long term adverse reactions and unintended effects are. Clearly they need to extend their present trial to determine these before roll out.

      You would not buy a car if the dealer told you they could not say whether the brakes work or how far you can drive on a full tank!

    • SVM says:

      Based on the current scientific literature, masks are *not* effective in protecting **the wearer** from infection.

      The purpose of face coverings is to prevent an **infected wearer** (who may not be aware that he/she is infected) from spreading infection to others in confined spaces.

  • Inaustria says:

    It is true that the closing of opera houses and theatres mean enormous financial losses for all artists, especially freelancers, and I dont want to minimize the severity of this. It seems also true that the likelihood of transmission in a theater auditorium is low, due to safety measures introduced and enforced. But I dont understand why it seems to be ignored that singers, who by nature cannot wear masks to do their job (as it is supposed to be done) can and do transmit this virus to EACH OTHER, as well as their families. Thus the closing of the theaters is not only to protect the audience but also the artists. I have no desire to stand on a stage with 100 colleagues at the moment, and simply cant understand colleagues who chose to ignore this reality, even with rigorous testing (in itself an enormous expense to a theater).

  • V. Lind says:

    Is this the sort of artist that the Association of British Orchestras is welcoming with open arms and excluding from quarantine?

    I am getting tired of special pleading.

  • David Spence says:

    What a jerk, like Peter Seiffert for instance. Better we all wind up dead, sir?

    La Scala opening right now, without a gallery present – how badly we need one – and Beczala is back because he is safe on stage at La Scala without an audience after what happened seven years ago with Damrau and Gatti.

    There is some stage direction for the concert from La Scala this year. They chose Davide Livermore after his technology heavy, otherwise totally aimless and faceless staging of Tosca last year. How about instead Damiano Michieletto (how I hate his William Tell from London though) the way he did Falstaff for Salzburg, more like what he did to Falstaff at Salzburg), which has Falstaff take place at a fancy retirement home (for aging singers?).
    WASN”T THAT PURTY? Most of this concert sounds like it is being put on by the residents, with a visiting serenade now by JDF on ‘Una furtiva’ The cojmmentary I am hearing sounds like it is both in Lithuanian and Italian, or perhaps in Lithun-Italian.

    And here as JDF and Rosa Feola dancing Pas de Deux from Nutcracker. Just kidding, but really, who knows? I am only getting audio now.

  • David Spence says:

    Concert halls are not nail studios or brothels? They’re not?

  • David Spence says:

    Impressed, at least almost by Eleonora Buratto in a Ballo aria? Musical to show some restraint, though the aria is a bit heavy for her (JDF has also been quite good)., observe dynamics, get good expression, color, etc. The cello obbligato on two arias thus far, out of the ranks of the orchestra is some of the best

    What though is the jumping, practically slamming into the Prelude to Carmen literally three seconds after Kurzak has wrapped up a decent, not great (egregious taking a breath right before the end) Signore ascolta. The gallery, which is not present, has no chance at a remark to hurl from there. I am reminded of John Cleese scolding Eric Idle for wanting to make an urgent rush for the clitoris (Meaning of LIfe, Monty Python).

  • Doc Martin says:

    Fomites, that is inanimate objects play a key role in transmitting cov-19, everything you touch is a possible source, bank atms, seats in theatres, doors in concert halls, shopping trolleys, packaging etc, so wash your hands before removing your mask!

    Surface contact infections are being missed by test, track and trace. You cannot text a door knob!

  • psq says:

    Since this thread is about Christian Gerhaher, perhaps there are interests in his taking on the role of Simon Boccanegra, premiered last night in Zuerich, live streamed on Arte TV, the joint French-German TV. The streaming is still available: