“Happy New ...” rings out in the corridors of the theatre twice this year – once for 1 January and once again for the start of a new season. After six weeks of theatre holidays, the joy of seeing each other again at the Bayerische Staatsoper was therefore enormous. But of course the once obligatory handshake or even a hug on 17 August 2020 that usually goes along with the return was replaced by the new contactless greetings – a bashful wave, a nod and implied bow, a mimed high five or a slightly spindly “elbow-shake”.
Normality in an exceptional situation?
Even if we are absolute experts in utopias on the stage, on taking our leave at the end of June it was clear for us that after the six-week abstinence everything wouldn’t be simply okay again, simply “normal” again, but rather that we would have to find a new normality, to be able to start our work again with “real” opera and ballet on the big stage. The theatre holidays were therefore also totally different for the Hygiene Task Force set up in March: they were shaped by the analysis of concepts and regulations, scientific studies and unscientific hearsay, shaped by coordination with the respective authorities and in particular by the exchange of experiences with other cultural institutions, which across the entire world dared to take their first own steps into the new reality with major effort. The Salzburg Festival in particular sent the signal in recent weeks that operations are possible with a diligent concept, in which the participants are protected and they can at the same time dedicate themselves to their vocation again.
We have therefore developed a hygiene concept for rehearsals as the season starts, which collates these experiences and combines two key goals: The health of all people involved is our greatest asset and must be protected – as must the continuation and completion of our cultural assignment. We are extremely grateful for the extensive support we received on our way here from the Klinikum rechts der Isar’s virology and infectiology experts, ranging from the overall concept through to the clarification of detailed issues such as the correct cleaning of hair pins.
As elsewhere, the cornerstones of the concept we have developed in-house are consistent social distancing (basic rule 1) and wearing a mouth-nose covering (basic rule 2) on all pathways through our buildings and everywhere the applicable distance might have to be briefly reduced. Since this cannot be implemented fully in all performance areas and in particular on the stage, we have divided all of our colleagues into four different protection groups: The red group includes those that have direct interaction during rehearsals and performances and therefore are tested regularly in order to prevent a possible spread of the virus as quickly as possible. Among others our singers, dancers, production teams and the orchestra will therefore wear a red badge. In addition to regular testing, considerably greater distances than the norm will be applied in the orchestra, for example – with one musician per music stand and with the aid of the expanded and extended orchestra pit. Dancers and performers will be divided into groups of ten people each, who can only be on the stage with each other and have as little contact with other groups of ten as possible. And based on a form of risk assessment, we continue to scrutinise the other risks that can be avoided without any artistic compromises.
The yellow group is in regular contact with the red group, but is always able here to either maintain distance or wear a mouth-nose covering or FFP-2 mask – such as our customer designers and make-up artists. The yellow group will also be tested, but in significantly greater intervals. So there are two more groups: The green group – such as our colleagues in administration – can basically comply with both basic rules. The blue group has contact with the audience/public: In the front building, it is also obligatory to wear a mouth-nose covering and to comply with further protective measures for the audience/public and employees.
All employees and all external service providers working in the building must also keep a daily personal health and contact diary, which has also proven its value at the Salzburg Festival, for example. Brief questions on possible symptoms will be answered every day, and possible intensive contacts will also be noted. This is an invaluable aid in rapidly interrupting the virus’s means of spreading in the event of an infection. Many other individual measures, such as fixed backstage teams, a hygiene concept in the canteen and ventilation instructions, will also be implemented.
We are therefore ready for you and really look forward to once again dimming the lights and opening our magnificent curtain for you from 1 September. A visit to the opera will also be a new reality for you, our esteemed audience (you’ll find some notes on your visit here) – but hopefully it will only be a transitional situation and not any kind of permanent, new normality. But we are performing again – with a focus on your health and ours, and thrilled to finally get started again.
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