OperaWire is proud to present “The Wonderful World of Opera Dogs,” a series by Diana Burgwyn, which will focus on the relationship between opera’s most iconic stars and their beloved canines. The creation of this series and all research necessary for each individual piece were conducted solely by Diana. To learn more about the origins of the project, click here

Dogs have held a place of importance in the lives of opera singers throughout the history of this art form.  But 2020, when COVID-19 burst onto a shocked world, was a year unlike any other for the profession of opera.  Did dogs help the singers cope with the harsh realities they faced?   And, having been virtually without a career during that long year, how did these artists get by—did they change, grow, learn?   Four major singers respond to those questions.

Luca Pisaroni

The charismatic Venezuela-born Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni is particularly known for his Mozart interpretations (among them both

Don Giovanni and his servant Leporello); an extremely versatile singer, he has portrayed all four villains in Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”

Pisaroni and his wife, Catherine, have been accompanied on almost all those international jaunts by their dogs Lenny, a Golden Retriever known as Lenny 2.0 (replacing his deceased precursor, Lenny 1.0), and Tristan, a miniature longhair Dachshund.  The canines are almost as famous as Pisaroni, with over 8,000 followers on their Instagram account.

The COVID-19 pandemic ended travel for both singer and dogs. For Pisaroni, the cessation of live performances came as a terrible shock.

“For weeks I read the newspapers and did nothing else,” he says. “I was paralyzed as one booking after another was canceled.”

The dogs had no such issues. In fact, says the singer, they were “delirious” with happiness because he was around them all the time in their Vienna home—no rehearsals, no evening performances, no waiting for him patiently for their middle-of-the-night walk. “I’ve never been around them so much,” says Pisaroni.  “I walk them over and over all day long.  They think it’s amazing!”

Pisaroni credits Lenny and Tristan for helping him get through the pandemic. “They have been a blessing,” he says.  “I would never have survived it without them.”

Furthermore, the dogs have served as a role model.  “They live in the minute only.”  This has enabled him to focus more on the here and now, to “let go and let destiny take its course.”

As live performances vanished, streamed events filled the gap in Pisaroni’s schedule to some extent.  There was, for instance, the opening night of Salzburg’s annual Mozart Week in January of this year and the world premiere of “Tales from a Safe Distance,” encompassing nine-one act operas inspired by Boccaccio’s “Decameron,” and a tenth wrap-around story featuring Pisaroni. These events, he says, were very challenging.

“Rehearsing with no audience is fine. But a performance without an audience is weird.  Opera is an artistic form to be consumed together. As a singer, you feel the audience, you exchange emotions with them.”

Pisaroni looks to the future with hope as the coronavirus lessens its grip but he still fears postponements, cancellations.  He is particularly looking forward to the world premiere of the Paris Opera’s “Le soulier de satin” (“The Satin Slipper”) by Marc-André Dalbavie at the Palais Garnier in May-June of this year.  The six-hour 50-minute opera is a parable based on a Chinese legend about two celestial stars in love, which had been dramatized by the French poet Paul Claudel.  Pisaroni takes on the leading role of Don Rodrigue.

Concerned that when theaters reopen, people who have become accustomed to streaming will not want to go back to live performance, Pisaroni urges them to return, not only for the sake of the art form but for their own pleasure. He remembers having listened to Pavarotti in recordings years ago. “But when I heard him live the first time I got goosebumps. It’s something I will never forget.”

Then Pisaroni returns to the subject of dogs. “Everyone should get a dog.  We’d be much better human beings.”