Last Sunday night was my wife Katie’s first performance at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in Der Rosenkavalier. It also happened to be the debut night for another of the American singers, Matthew Pena, who has become a good friend of ours since arriving in Germany. These two debuts, like any performance in a staged production, were planned much in advance and rehearsed…however, the third debut of the night was a surprise to everyone.
Katie and I have a 5.5 pound, 8-year old Papillon named Noir (short for Renoir), who on Sunday night became a German opera star.
In Der Rosenkavalier, Matt plays the role of the animal handler. At the last minute, one of the dogs fell ill and was sent to the vet. The assistant director rushed around trying to find a replacement, and she asked Katie if we had our dog with us in Berlin. It just so happens he was right across the street in our apartment. I rushed him over to the back-stage door, Katie snapped a few pre-show photos and he was on for his big scene.
As the animal handler, Matt rehearsed with two dogs, but on the night of his big debut, he went on stage with three dogs and a monkey! The monkey was skittish, two of the dogs were not on their best behavior, and Noir kept his cool. He was the hit of the show, and the assistant director loved his performance so much that he’s been asked to return for future performances.
I did a quick post-performance interview with Matt and here’s his take on the whole crazy ordeal:
TL: This was your first role on the Deutsche Oper stage, were you nervous going into it?
MP: It’s the largest opera company in Germany, so big stars come through here, the same bunch who are singing at the Metropolitan Opera. So as you could imagine, going into my first production was a little scary. But besides the intimidation factor, the rehearsals are in German (fast German) and my scene had dozens of singers and extras on stage at once.
My part was the animal handler, so I was going to come on stage with two dogs (a mixed breed and a retriever). Neither of the dogs had been on stage before, but with a handful of treats, they were pretty comfortable with it by the third rehearsal.
TL: And then came the performance, which turned out to be much more than you bargained for…
MP: I get to the theater and am told one dog is ill, so they’re bringing in at least two more dogs! I figure I’ll just fill my pockets with treats and hope for the best.
I go visit the dogs early to try and make them as comfortable around me as possible, and a little French Papillion that I recognize shows up. It’s Noir! But it soon becomes clear that the three aren’t best friends. Before I know it, it’s time to go onstage.
TL: Now, you not only have three dogs, but someone decides to throw a monkey into the mix. How did that happen?
MP: So we’re all lining up, and as the assistant director is calling me to go, the dogs start pulling the other way. From out of nowhere, a man with a monkey appears!
The dogs want to eat the monkey. The monkey keeps jumping on and off his trainer, slapping the dogs, but all I know is I have to get these dogs onstage. As soon as I do, the big retriever starts pulling away like crazy, not even to get to the monkey, but because there’s the slippery main-stage floor he hadn’t been on before and his paws are slipping. I’m literally dragging a retriever around stage while the mixed breed is still trying to go for the monkey. The monkey is going crazy and the Papillion, I’m told, is totally upstaging us all!
After it was all over, I had a hard time recalling what actually had happened, but I’m pretty sure nothing went as it was supposed to. And that was my debut at the prestigious Deutsche Oper Berlin.
TL: Thanks Matt. Let’s hope the next show goes a little smoother!
Katie, Matt and Noir, along with the other dogs and the monkey… will all be performing in Der Rosenkavalier at Deutsche Oper again this Saturday night.