As is the case with many auditions, the aspiring performers represented a mix of starry-eyed novices and seasoned entertainers vying for a spot in the limelight.
The Pittsburgh Opera’s latest call for performers attracted 15 bulldogs Saturday afternoon, trying out for one of two roles in the “The Barber of Seville.”
Some were calm and cool leading up to the moment of their tryout, content to splay out on the floor, while others wagged their stubby tails and tried to meet and greet as many other dogs and people within reach.
A few came dressed to impress. Charmin, 6, arrived for her big debut with bright red nails and a little faux horned helmet with red braids.
“She likes carrots, belly rubs and sleeping,” said Bethany McCallister of Richland. “That’s her resume so far.”
This show will present a different take on the famous Italian comedic opera, typically set in 18th century Spain. If you haven’t seen the opera itself, you may have seen Looney Tunes’ “Rabbit of Seville.”
The setting will be the back lot of a Hollywood studio with Bartolo, performed by Kevin Glavin, as a movie producer — a sort of Louis B. Mayer type — accompanied by two bulldogs, according to Tara Kovach, director of production, who ran Saturday’s audition. The “Barber of Seville” is scheduled to run April 2 through April 10 at the Benedum Center, Downtown.
The director, Linda Brovsky, thought adding two bulldogs would add to the comedy, Ms. Kovach said. It’s also a chance to add other layers to the story. At one point the opera calls for an aria by a maid with sneezing fits.
“Typically, that aria is cut, but one of the things the aria does is allows a chance to clean up after the famous shaving scene,” Ms. Kovach said. So, now, the aria will be performed by the dresser for Rosina, who is allergic to dogs.
For 3-year-old Milton, “hopefully this will be his first experience in the spotlight,” said Lauren Gilmore, who traveled from Steubenville, Ohio.
While 4-year-old Goblin, a therapy dog in training, has yet to grace the stage, she comes from a line of performers. Her grandfather Cherokee Legend Rock was the only bulldog to win the Westminster Dog Show’s Best of Breed three times, said owner Lori Korchok of Robinson. Goblin, herself, is a bit of a Pittsburgh celebrity. She won first place in the Steel City Pet Expo’s Halloween costume contest in November — she went as the Fort Pitt Bridge.
Poppy, 8, has some experience in the spotlight. She played Bill Sikes’ dog in Penn-Trafford High School’s production of “Oliver!”
“She knew her cues from the music,” said owner Bethany Karger of Hampton, who came to the audition with her husband, Bruce. “We played a CD at home for her to get used to it and she would rush in from the other room when she heard her cue.”
The first test was to see how the dogs would react to a singer on stage. The trick was, the dogs couldn’t sing along, as some are inclined to do. Matthew Scollin, a resident artist with the Pittsburgh Opera, strolled in front of the line of bulldogs to gauge their response as he sang, sometimes bending down and scratching a friendly head.
Next, Ms. Kovach took two dogs at a time and commanded them to sit, stay and then jump up on a chair. If they can follow hand commands rather than verbal ones, all the better, said Ms. Kovach.
Though W.C. Fields famously warned against working with children and animals, it’s not the first time the Pittsburgh Opera has incorporated them into a show. In 2013, “Aida” included a menagerie comprised of an albino python, a Harris hawk, two “magnificent police horses,” and several greyhounds, Ms. Kovach said.
“The Harris hawk hated the trumpeters on stage,” she recalled, “He tried to fly off every time they played, and we had to change his cue.
“It’s a lot of fun for us,” Ms. Kovach said. “The dogs make you smile. It’s like having therapy dogs around. They diffuse a lot of tension. You sometimes can’t anticipate what they’ll do, but it’s always good fun.”
The owners of the two lucky dogs will be notified later by email, Ms. Kovach said.
Stephanie Ritenbaugh: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-4910.