Music, the Pythagorean school felt, has universal resonance. It has been claimed that it improves the yield of milch cows, and that singing to indoor plants is therapeutic, both for the singer and the listener. And Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird’s controversial book, The Secret Life of Plants, became a publishing phenomenon because it suggested that humans and plants could communicate.
Now, in Spain, one of the nations hit hard by the pandemic, Barcelona’s Liceu opera has reopened after the lockdown with a botanical performance. There was a potted plant in every seat in the otherwise empty hall. They were no doubt enriched by the music, which reached parts that impersonal industrial fertilisers cannot.
The performance acknowledged a reality that was visible during the lockdown — the rapidity with which nature reclaimed its own when human footfalls became sparse. The human domain which civilisation polices so self-importantly is fragile, and is breached by the wild the moment the human race falters. In the collective unconscious, we have always been aware of this, from the era when sacred groves dotted the world, and it is frequently referenced in popular culture, whether in the chapter of The Jungle Book titled “Letting in the Jungle”, or in Jethro Tull’s Jack in the Green. But it is carefully ignored in everyday life in the Anthropocene, in which the myth of the world-shaping, omnipotent and sapient species is given free rein.
It is not immediately known if the potted plants in Barcelona appreciated the rendering of Puccini’s “Chrysanthemum”, which was chosen to go with the theme of the show. But really, would it not have been more impressive if the concert had been played in a sacred grove deep in a forest? Because the potted plant spells containment and breeding, and is the very antithesis of the wild.
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