A night at the opera

Photo by Flickr user Now I'm Always Smiling. Click for sourceThe International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry has a brief case report of a man who began hallucinating whole operas that would start every evening shortly after sunset.

A 74-year-old retired mathematician had to undergo emergency surgery due to an ischemic perforation of the colon. Three days after the operation, he began to suffer from near complete insomnia and mentioned only briefly that ‘this monkey music’ kept him awake. His condition deteriorated and 5 days later he admitted, that he heard complete operas at night from the very first to the last chord, ‘and you know how long these operas are’.

He could not offer any explanation as to where these sounds came from, could not distance himself from his elaborate musical perceptions, had no means of interrupting them, and feared the first notes of another overture (which reliably rang out soon after sunset).

On examination during daytime he appeared tired and irritable, rather uncooperative with poor concentration, but without overt evidence of a severe confusional state. His medical history was inconspicuous, but it became obvious that he was a dedicated opera-lover with a profound musical expertise, which he had acquired over decades of studying scores and librettos in every detail.

Link to PubMed entry for case report (via @sarcastic_f).


  1. Posted June 10, 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Wow a kind of auditory self hypnosis (all be it involuntary). I once hypnotized a dying woman whose one final wish was to live long enough to see the ballet Swan Lake. She never got to see it for real but she enjoyed “watching” it in her mind.
    Insomnia causes hallucinations as the brain is still trying to dream even when are awake.
    Amazing story thank you

  2. Posted June 10, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    A pleasant way to spend the evening if you can’t sleep. I wonder if he could convince himself to doze off during the “concert”.

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