Watch an Opera Singer Perform (While Undergoing an MRI)


In Pretty Woman (1990), Richard Gere doles out an oft-repeated theory about opera. In preparing Julia Roberts’s character for a performance of La traviata, he tells her, “People's reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it.” This may be true, but what are people’s reactions when they see inside an opera singer?

The above video, which comes to us via Laughing Squid, shows German opera singer Michael Volle as he performs a beautiful aria from Wagner’s Tannhäuser—and he does so while undergoing an MRI scan. Not only does it sound great, but this cross-section-like view also allows us to see what it looks like when Volle hits those notes.

This kind of advanced imaging is thanks to a new technology that provides MRI scans at 100 frames per second. (Standard MRI machines you see at the hospital work at about 10 frames per second.) Invented by scientists at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, this high-resolution imaging technique was originally developed to provide researchers with an inside look at the body's vocal mechanisms as they work to form speech.

This isn't the first time this type of MRI has been used on someone while they were singing. As we reported last year, the researchers at the University of Illinois showed off the technology by scanning someone as they sang "If I Only Had a Brain." Watching the two performances next to each other is a great way to see just how amazing an opera singers' command is over the anatomy that accounts for vocalizations:

It’s a sweet-sounding anatomy lesson that you’re gonna love (no matter what Richard Gere has to say about opera).

[h/t Laughing Squid, Reddit]

Banner image via, YouTube.