Opera not sheepish about Market Square recital


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It was not quite an aria to a ewe.

But today, at the Farmer's Market in Market Square, Downtown, it came pretty close.

People who visited the square this afternoon to shop for lunch, produce or desserts at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's weekly market were greeted with two not-so-typical attractions, which together formed an even more unusual scene.

Artists from the Pittsburgh Opera performed well-known pieces while, several feet away, two sheep from the Underhill Farm in Hollidaysburg, both examples of the Leicester Longwool breed that is rare in North America, were on display.

"It's an attempt to mix it up," said Russell A. Howard, vice president for special events and development at the partnership.

The farmer's market typically attracts 7,000 to 10,000 people each Thursday, Mr. Howard said, and his organization has created programming -- such as jazz and blues performances in the past -- to try to create a unique experience even for people who people who may visit several times a year.

"We want it to be something suprising and different when we can," he said.

Today's attractions, he said, fit that description.

The Pittsburgh Opera performance, timed to celebrate the launch of the group's 75th season, has been long planned. The free, live show featured artists singing pieces from operas including "La boheme," "Turandot" and "The Barber of Seville."

For many, the performance was background music for the walk around the square, but some people sat in chairs arranged in front of the performers to take in the show. And behind the people sat the sheep.

"The one seems to like the music," said Underhill Farm shepherd Fred Stowell, gesturing to the sheep named Esther, who had moved to the part of her pen closest to the singers. A few minutes later, the other ewe, named Baathsheba, joined her.

The English breed is of the same type raised by American Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The breed fell out of favor in the United States because people wanted finer wool, Mr. Stowell said, but he and fellow shepherd William Churchill became interested in them after seeing them at a Maryland festival in 2008 and have been breeding them since.

The Underhill Farm shepherds come to the Pittsburgh Farmer's Market a few times a year to sell wool and yarn, as they were today. This Market Square appearance was part of a promotion for Mini of Pittsburgh, and next to the sheep's pen was a 2014 red Mini Cooper with a trunk full of sheared wool.

Elena Brown, who works Downtown, walked up to the livestock pen during the lunch hour to snap a photo of the sheep on her cell phone.

"This is different," she said of the scene in Market Square. "This is very different."

Something very different will also be happening Downtown Friday night. From 5:30 to 10 p.m., the Downtown Partnership and the Cultural Trust will hold a Night Market featuring about 70 vendors on the Sixth Street Bridge.

Friday night's animal of honor? A giant rubber duck.

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/ First Published September 26, 2013 8:15 PM


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