Thousands of Plants Serenaded at Barcelona Opera

To mark the end of the COVID-19 lockdown, a string quartet played Puccini for potted plants.

Concert for plants at Barcelona Opera
The Uceli string quartet performs for 2,292 potted plants at the Barcelona Opera on June 22, 2020.

Jordi Vidal / Getty Images 

Barcelona's grand opera house, the Liceu, opened its doors to an unusual audience this week. Nearly 2,300 potted plants, purchased from local nurseries, sat on the red velvet seats, waiting to be serenaded by a string quartet performing Puccini's "Crisantemi." Aside from the musicians, photographers, and videographers, any other humans who wished to enjoy the concert had to watch it through a livestream on the evening of June 22, 2020. 

This curious concert was created by conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia, who had spent a lot of time thinking about humans' relationship with nature during the COVID-19 lockdown, described in the Liceu's press release as a "strange, painful period." The performance was meant to be "a highly symbolic act that defends the value of art, music and nature as a letter of introduction to our return to activity." 

Spain's state of emergency was lifted on Sunday, June 21, after the COVID-19 virus hit the country hard, infecting 246,000 people and killing almost 30,000. The country had one of the strictest lockdown protocols in Europe, with people allowed out of their homes only to buy food and walk dogs. The New York Times reported,

"The coronavirus outbreak has severely damaged Spain’s image as one of the healthiest nations in the world, which has long boasted a robust universal health care system and the highest life expectancy in the European Union. The pandemic has knocked out thousands of the country’s health workers, who make up nearly 20 percent of its confirmed coronavirus cases."

Those exhausted healthcare workers will each receive one of the 2,292 potted plants from the Liceu Opera in the days following the concert – a small but meaningful gesture that recognizes their role "on the toughest front in a battle unprecedented for our generation." 

Now that the concert has already occurred, you can watch the video on YouTube (or see below). It's an oddly moving scene, lasting just over nine minutes, with the usual introduction warning people to turn off their cell phones so as not to disrupt the performance. The musicians enter the hall, take their seats, and play, while the camera moves over and between the rows of verdant audience. At the end, an eerie floral applause fills the hall, the enthusiastic rustling of leaves that Ampudia must have cleverly arranged using hidden fans. 

Commenters on social media expressed mixed opinions. Some thought it was absurd and clownish. "Why should plants get to go to the opera when I can't?" one asked. But many more thought it was wonderful, expressing gratitude and appreciation for the gesture. "What an expression of total love for nature! Just divine!" someone wrote. Another said, "This moved me more than words can say. It's as if I was a plant in the audience, insignificant as an individual yet vital ... [It] moved me so much it made me weep."

I loved it. As a classically trained violinist myself, I know that we musicians often play for ourselves as much as we do for an audience. It's how we express emotion and cope with stress and make sense of the world. I can't help but think, what a privilege it was to be those musicians, to play to a houseful of gorgeous greenery, to be able once again to sit on a magnificent stage and fill that space with music.