X-Ray Reveals 216-Year-Old Opera Aria

Stanford lab able to read scrubbed-out notes of Luigi Cherubini

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 12, 2013 1:08 PM CDT

(Newser) – Stanford physicists have made it possible to listen to a renowned opera in full for the first time in more than 200 years, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Scientists at the university's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory used X-rays to reveal the closing aria from the 1797 opera Medee that composer Luigi Cherubini had scrubbed over in charcoal. (Critics had complained the piece was too long, according to music legend.) The scientists used powerful rays from a device called a synchrotron to zero in on the iron (from the ink used by Cherubini) and zinc (from the musical staffs printed on the paper) hidden beneath the charcoal, explains Phys.org and Wired.

"It's similar to a dot matrix printer," says one researcher. "Whenever we saw iron we would put a little digital red ink blot down, and whenever we saw zinc we'd put a little green dot down." The newly illuminated notes were then transferred to a computer screen. "It is indescribable," says the Berlin music scholar who suggested the experiment. You can listen for yourself to the recovered music here.

This is the title page from the 1797 opera 'Medee' by Luigi Cherubini.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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