ENO Breathe – a joint initiative between Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and English National Opera

Suzi is creative director for ENO Breathe, a social prescribing intervention born out of an innovative partnership between English National Opera (ENO) and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, to provide support to those recovering from Covid-19. Some survivors experience breathlessness for some time after they have recovered from COVID-19. Breathlessness can increase anxiety, which in turn can cause patients to take shallow, panicky breaths in a self-perpetuating cycle.

ENO Breathe brings together Imperial’s medical and ENO’s musical expertise, providing novel methods to support and empower those recovering from COVID-19.  Using lullabies as the creative starting point, participants will be given tools and techniques to use beyond the duration of the six-week programme.

Traditional lullabies are rooted in love, tenderness and caring – they cross boundaries of culture and are accessible to all. Many lullabies have a peaceful, hypnotic quality and tend to sit comfortably within a non-specialist singer’s vocal range making them ideal for this programme. There are also powerful moments where lullabies appear in operas, providing the potential to link with an extraordinary range of operatic repertory.

The exercises and music we will focus on in ENO Breathe will help to bring body, mind and breath into alignment.  Our approach  will mirror some of the techniques employed by opera singers who often achieve the physical co-ordination required for singing via emotional connection and imagery, rather than by giving their bodies explicit physiological instructions.

Initially being trialled across London, the ENO and Imperial College Healthcare plan to expand this programme nationwide.

Dr Sarah Elkin, Consultant in Respiratory Medicine & Clinical Director Integrated Care at Imperial said: ‘As the country recovers from the effects of COVID-19, it’s important to remember that some patients recovering from the disease are still struggling with symptoms that can cause them significant distress, even after they’ve recovered from the initial illness. As doctors, we know from experience that community and social interventions have the potential be incredibly powerful for these patients, as well as providing them with tools and mechanisms to cope with the impact of COVID-19 in the future.’

Stuart Murphy, CEO of ENO said ‘The arts have a huge role to play in acting as a salve as the country recovers from COVID-19 and this project embodies the power of opera.’

You can read about the launch of ENO Breathe in The Stage here, in The Times here and in The Telegraph here.  Libby Purves also mentions the project in her article for the Times – ‘a dose of opera can lift us out of the gloom’.