In “The Science of Opera,” actor Stephen Fry and comedian Alan Davies convene a panel of researchers from University College London to discuss what happened physiologically when the pair were hooked up to various sensors as they attended Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House. Like the pairing at my first opera, Fry is a knowledgeable lover of the art and Davies is almost an opera virgin. The gadgets attached to Fry and Davies measured their heart rates, breathing, sweat, and “various other emotional responses.” What do we learn from the experiment? For one thing, as neurobiologist Michael Trimble informs us, “music is different from all the other arts.” For example, ninety percent of people surveyed admit to being moved to tears by a piece of music. Only five to ten percent say the same about painting or sculpture. Fry and Davies’ autonomic nervous system responses confirm the power of music (and story) to move us beyond our conscious control and awareness.
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