The heroine of La Traviata may have died from tuberculosis but Verdi's opera appears to have benefits of its own. Mice with heart transplants survived roughly twice as long if they listened to the opera -- and Mozart concertos -- than pop tunes after an operation, according to Japanese researchers.
Writing in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, a team of Japanese researchers led by Dr. Masanori Nimi describe an experiment in which mice were given heart transplants from an unrelated donor that they were therefore expected to reject. For a week after the operation, the mice continuously listened to La Traviata, a selection of Mozart concertos, songs by the New Age artist Enya, or a range of single monotones.
The mice that were exposed to the opera survived the longest -- an average of 26 days -- followed by those who listened to Mozart, surviving 20 days. The group who tuned in to Enya lasted just 11 days and the monotone group only seven days.
The team tested the effects of La Traviata on deaf mice too, and they found that the music had little effect, meaning that hearing the music -- rather than other factors like feeling the vibrations -- accounted for the difference.
Blood samples from the mice revealed that the classical music appeared to slow organ rejection by calming the immune system.
The team would now like to see if the phenomenon could be used to help improve the success of transplants in people.
The research has its skeptics. John Sloboda, a professor of psychology at the University of Keele, told The New Scientist: "I think it dangerous to dub this an 'opera' or 'Mozart' effect on the basis of exposure to one piece from each genre. The effect might be totally specific to that piece, or even the recording, played at a specific volume, so we know nothing about what characteristics of these pieces might have caused the immunosuppressant response."
If this provides more evidence that classical music has a health-inducing impact on the body, there's been no indication that Dick Cheney's doctors are prescribing a regimen of Verdi just yet.