A Donkey, Some Chickens and a Horse
Ask most people what comes to mind when they think of opera and odds are ‘donkey’ won’t be the first thing they say. Nor would ‘horse’ or ‘chickens’ be tripping off their tongues. So it may come as a surprise to learn that all these creatures are starring in our current production of Bizet‘s Carmen. Thankfully, like batteries, bulls are not included.
The star turn of the four-legged brigade is from Louis, our taller than average cast member, as he carries Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Escamillo) to centre stage. Watching Escamillo belting out his calling card ‘Toréador, en garde’ from the saddle is a thrilling moment of pure theatre.
But an animal pilfering the limelight in opera is not a recent fad. Verdi‘s Aida has accounted for over a century’s worth of exotic appearances since its 1871 premiere – ‘Does anyone have a spare elephant I can borrow?’ – though directors have become reluctant to cast endangered animals weighing several tons for obvious reasons.
Tipping the scales at slightly less than a family car there have been stallions, falcons and wolfhounds on stage in recent years. But an animal doesn’t need to be majestic to steal the show – who can forget Ozzie, the Jack Russell terrier, from the recent L’elisir d’amore?
Of course problems arise from time to time. There was the occasion when a donkey just couldn’t resist the temptation to improvise a duet with Angela Gheorghiu during The Royal Opera’s 2003 production of Pagliacci. But problems are normally more mundane. More, aromatic… We’ll say no more.
Though they are usually supporting acts, animals have sometimes been given top billing. At Christmas we have Jonathan Dove‘s and Alasdair Middleton‘s The Enchanted Pig in the Linbury Studio Theatre while in the Spring Season we have Janácek‘s The Cunning Little Vixen to look forward to. Sadly no four-legged friends will be making an appearance; it’s down to plain old human beings to take care of matters.
So if you do get to see Carmen we hope that, after you’ve raved about the likes of Elina Garanča and Roberto Alagna, you’ll remember to mention the less-heralded cast members. And in case you’re wondering the donkey is called Pollyanne, but the chickens are too cool for fame and prefer to remain nameless.