Music

This video aims to refute claims that singers are coronavirus super-spreaders

Using a tissue in front of his mouth, tenor Frédéric Antoun shows that speaking may in fact be riskier than singing.

Using a tissue in front of his mouth, tenor Frédéric Antoun shows that speaking may in fact be riskier

Tenor Frédéric Antoun sings 'O Sole Mio' while holding a tissue in front of his mouth. (Frédéric Antoun/Facebook)

Performing artists have been hit hard by the coronavrius pandemic, none more so than singers, who've come under scrutiny for the potentially hazardous levels of droplets expelled when they perform.

This perceived risk has contributed to the decision to cancel the entire 2020-21 season at most North American opera companies.

Not so fast, says tenor Frédéric Antoun. He recently posted a light-hearted yet thought-provoking video on Facebook that aims to show how speaking is actually more dangerous than singing when it comes to aerosol propulsion.

Antoun was reacting to a French-language op-ed in La Presse written by Benoit Gareau, a dentist and president of Groupe Espace Santé, a non-profit association of stakeholders interested in improving health care and services in Quebec.

In his essay, Gareau uses the example of Patient 31 (a non-symptomatic Korean woman who spread coronavirus to an estimated 5,000 people back in February) to urge public health officials to base their strategies on stopping super-spreaders rather than shutting down the economy.

Larger-than-life opera singer Bianca Castafiore is a character in the comic book series The Adventures of Tintin. (Hergé/Moulinsart)

"To control the spread of the virus, we should encourage working at home, hold activities outdoors, avoid confined areas without ventilation, stay physically distant from one another, disinfect surfaces, wash our hands frequently, wear a surgical mask," Gareau says. To illustrate a dangerous scenario, he invokes La Castafiore, the opera-singing diva in the comic book series, The Adventures of Tintin.

"Imagine the infected Castafiore singing in a closed room," he writes. "With her voice, she can forcefully propel droplets and aerosols that contain SARS-CoV-2.... [promoting] the super-spread of the virus."

Tenor Antoun argues that speaking actually propels air more forcefully than singing does. To illustrate, he holds a tissue in front of his mouth, first while speaking, and then while singing "O Sole Mio." At the conclusion of the latter, he turns to the camera and says, "Ça bouge à peine" (It barely moves.)

While Antoun's evidence is admittedly anecdotal, it does beg the question: do opera houses really need to close?

now