While most of us are awaiting the reopening of theatres, the opera, concerts, museums and other cultural institutions that we attended or visited before the pandemic’s lockdowns and restrictions, one company, the famous English National Opera (ENO) is actively helping those suffering from lingering Covid symptoms.
The ENO recently launched a superb online programme to help people who cannot shake off lingering and debilitating Covid symptoms, in particular, shortness of breath.
Designed by the ENO together with expert teams at Imperial College Healthcare Trust, the six-week ENO Breathe programme teaches people exercises to improve posture and breath control just as is done for opera singers. It is a unique combination of medical, musical and educational expertise.
Building on techniques used by singers, the holistic online programme offers self-management tools for patients experiencing breathlessness, and the anxiety that this can produce.
“Lullabies create a musically soothing environment: they are ideal for non-specialist singers. They span continents and cultures and are universal in their appeal,” said Jenny Mollica, head of ENO’s learning and participation programme.
The ENO kicked off with a pilot programme, and once they found that the majority of participants reported an improvement in their breathlessness and overall feeling less anxious, they decided on an official launch.
The programme will now be rolled out to up to 1,000 patients by participating healthcare networks across London and the North of England with a view to continuing to work with more post-COVID services across the country over the coming months.
Led by professional singing specialists, participants learn breathing and singing exercises, using an approach that mirrors techniques employed by opera singers who achieve the physical coordination required for singing via emotional connection and imagery, rather than by giving their bodies explicit physiological instructions. Participants are then equipped with exercises to practice these techniques in their own time, aided by online resources specifically designed to support their progress.
Harry Brunjes, ENO Chair said, “Medicine and the Arts have come to understand that they have more in common than they knew. ENO Breathe, this astonishing project led by Jenny Mollica, is the unprecedented interface of the ‘Art of Medicine’ and the ‘Science of the Arts’.”
People wishing to take part can be referred by clinics that specialise in so-called ‘long Covid’.
“I know that my breath control is better now,” said participant Colette-Elizabeth. “My posture is better. I can go into meetings and get my point across without suffocating on each breath.”
“You don’t have to have any experience or interest in singing to take part,” said Mollica.
“Combining cutting edge musical and medical expertise, we look forward to continuing our partnership with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and to working with post-COVID assessment clinics across the country in this next phase of the programme,” she added.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I am very grateful for the work of the ENO and Imperial College Healthcare Trust in helping those suffering from the impact of this terrible virus. For many of those who have had the disease, the effects are felt months after the original infection and often acutely.
“I’m sure this programme will help long-COVID sufferers both physically and emotionally.”
This isn’t the first ENO initiative since the pandemic. One of the most amazing contributions ENO employees made over the lockdown is down to their phenomenal costume department. Moving away from the captivating costumes of the 2019/20 Season operas, the team dedicated themselves to sew scrubs and produce PPE for London hospitals facing shortages. Raising a remarkable £26,000, the team produced 1,700 pairs of scrubs, 500 hats and 1,000 visors and donated the remaining money to NHS charities. Deputy Head of Costume Sarah Bowern has since been awarded an MBE in recognition of the department’s efforts.
The ENO also staged the world’s first fully-staged drive-in opera. ENO Drive & Live, the world’s first large scale drive-in opera wowed audiences in September last year, marking the first time the company performed together in person since March.
Held in the grounds of London’s Alexandra Palace and based on a huge festival-sized stage, the performances of Puccini’s La Bohème were rehearsed and performed by two casts and crews in separate bubbles, whilst audiences enjoyed the spectacle from the safety of their vehicles.