On June 22, the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house in Barcelona hosted its first performance since March. And though every seat was taken, not one member of the audience texted, coughed or chatted conspicuously. Instead of trying to take surreptitious photographs, the crowd focused on a different task: photosynthesis.
The brainchild of conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia, this unusual concert found 2,292 houseplants enjoying the UceLi Quartet’s rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s Crisantemi as human spectators tuned in via livestream. Those who missed the live broadcast can catch the nine-minute video—featuring sweeping views of plants comfortably settled in the auditorium’s six levels of seating—on YouTube.
“I heard many more birds singing,” the artist says. “And the plants in my garden and outside growing faster. And, without a doubt, I thought that maybe I could now relate in a much intimate way with people and nature.”
Per The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet, Puccini penned Crisantemi, which translates to chrysanthemums, following the death of his friend Prince Amadeo, Duke of Savoy, in 1890. Though the composer is known mainly for operas like La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, his earliest works were string quartets like Crisantemi. Puccini claimed to have written the six-minute elegy in one night; motifs from the melancholic work appear in his later opera Manon Lescaut.
Concert pel Biocè’s organizers tell Reuters’ Luis Felipe Castilleja that the performance was intended to reflect on the absurdity of the human condition during the pandemic, which has limited people’s opportunities to act as spectators.
“Nature advanced to occupy the spaces we snatched from it,” explained Ampudio during a rehearsal.
Post-concert, the houseplants—accompanied by a certificate from the artist—were donated to health care workers at the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona. As of Wednesday morning, Spain has confirmed more than 245,000 cases of COVID-19 and 28,000 deaths.
The country had one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, with residents confined to their homes for seven weeks until restrictions began to lift in early May. On Sunday, Spain lifted its national state of emergency after three months of limitations on “movement and assembly,” per the AP. As part of the current phase in the reopening plan, theaters can start to operate with capacity restrictions, reports Rachel Treisman for NPR.
During the Monday night performance, the Liceu observed all of its usual rituals, informing the leafy audience via loudspeaker that the show was about to begin, according to Reuters.
When the concert came to a close, the musicians stood and bowed to the crowd. At first, silence filled the hall. But then a mysterious breeze entered the room. The plants swayed in their seats, and their branches rustled in a semblance of applause.