Two things you should know about internationally famous bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, appearing next week in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Maometto II in Toronto. When he was 11, he heard his first opera. It was Aida. He knew then and there he wanted to be an opera singer. And, until he was in his late 20s, he was afraid of dogs.

The latter is significant because today, Pisaroni is almost as well known for his dogs as for his talent. Tristan, a dachshund, and Lenny, a golden retriever, travel everywhere with him and his wife, Catherine. They have their own Facebook page (3,100 likes); they regularly show up on Catherine’s Instagram account. Last year, a woman stopped them on the streets of New York. “Oh my God,” she squealed, Luca recalls, imitating her delight, “Lenny and Tristan! Lenny and Tristan!” Pisaroni’s not sure if she knew who he was.

When Tristan was given an on-stage role last summer in Salzburg as the dog that Pisaroni’s Count Almaviva takes for a walk at the beginning of The Marriage of Figaro, people lined up to meet him after the performance at the stage door. Tristan, that is. “They would say to me,” Pisaroni recalls, “Oh yeah, nice performance – now where’s the dog!”

Walking with Lenny, Tristan and Luca in Toronto’s Liberty Village, it’s easy to see the method in Pisaroni’s madness. The world of an international opera star is difficult – often lonely, anxious and stressful.

“Everybody only sees the tip of the iceberg of this profession,” Luca tells me. “They see you perform, accepting the applause at the end of the show, and they think, that’s what it’s like. They have no idea of the work and emotional toil the life can take.”

Travelling with the dogs and with Catherine (a Web designer who can work from anywhere) allows the 40-year-old Pisaroni a portable home he can take with him wherever he goes. He needs to – he spent only 24 days last year in his ostensible home, Vienna. And one week of that was in performance. The dogs both calm him down and help him conserve his energy. “On a performance day, I go on two long walks with them,” he says. “One before the show, to help me focus, one after to help me relax.”

Read the entire feature here.