Operatic Bestiary

Philippe Thanh 18/01/2016
Earlier this season, the appearance of a bull named Easy Rider in the production of Moses and Aaron at the Opera Bastille, even before the opening, triggered a stir expertly maintained by a more or less organized leakage on the web.
The presence of this Charolais bull unleashed - with the help of the "virality" of social networks - the amazement of many singers who only dream of a fee approaching the animal’s owner’s compensation (40,000 euros for eight performances), as well as the ire of animal rights advocates. Without going so far as to suggest abuse, an animal with a ring locked in its snout must have only moderately enjoyed listening to so much twelve-tone music.

The presence of animals on stage is not new: without going back to parades of elephants in Aida in Verona Arena at the beginning of last century, A production of Carmen at the Paris Opera in 1959 brought together on stage "fifteen horses, two donkeys, a few mules, a dog, a monkey and several parrots", as evidenced by Jean-Philippe Saint-Geours in the excellent book which he and Christophe Tardieu have consecrated to the Palais Garnier.

The real question is: in the name of what realism should live animals be introduced into a show that is, by its very nature, one of the most artificial of all art forms, existing only by its conventions, not least of which is that the characters express themselves by singing? During a performance of Verdi’s Attila at Arena in Nimes, the soprano - Irish, thus a fine cavalier - arrived at full gallop before jumping down and singing her aria. Then came the king of the Huns, his workhorse in careful step, held in hand by two extras, before heavily dismounting his horse. And we talk of realism?

Particularly where animals are concerned, there is constant uncertainty as to the result: a horse relieving itself in the middle of a poignant scene, or a dog lifting its leg against a piece of scenery, and the dramatic effect suffers a blow! In the case of releasing doves, supposedly to be recovered above stage, there will assuredly be one that will roost in the heights of the auditorium, diverting the attention of hundreds of spectators, amused... or worried about their clothes.

This works much better with domesticated pets used to humans - mostly dogs - who can take an active part in the show, even with delight when their master is with them. So when the staging of a show allows the baritone Luca Pisaroni to have one of his dogs on stage with him (the famous Lenny and Tristan have their own Facebook page, followed by more than 3,500 fans) he didn’t hesitate, and no one doubts that the animal is happy to be on stage with his master.

To all our readers, whether or not you might live in the company of animals, La Lettre du Musicien wishes you a beautiful and happy new year!

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