How Do You Train a Donkey to Be a Met Opera Performer?

Classic Arts Features   How Do You Train a Donkey to Be a Met Opera Performer?
 
Meet the live animals specially taught to learn music cues for La Bohème, Exterminating Angel, and more.
Sir Gabriel (center) in <i>Il Barbiere di Siviglia</i> at the Metropolitan Opera.
Sir Gabriel in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera. Marty Sohl/The Metropolitan Opera
Lord, beachside
Lord, beachside The Metropolitan Opera

In many Met productions, the world’s finest singers share the spotlight with an assortment of four-legged co-stars. In the opening months of the 2017–2018 season alone, three sheep, a horse, and a chivalric donkey grace the Met stage. All five animal actors—and almost all of the Met’s theatrical critters—are provided by All-Tame Animals, a New York–based animal talent agency owned by Nancy Novograd, whose staff put their performers through vigorous training. The All-Tame team prepares the animals by acclimating them to crowds and loud noises, playing music in their stalls, and painting their stall entrances to look like the Met’s brightly striped stage doors. After a few performances, Novograd says, “They even know their music! They doze in the dark behind the scenes, and then when they hear their music, they pick their heads up and get ready.”

The Met’s longest tenured animal actor, 16-year-old donkey Sir Gabriel, returns for his 12th consecutive season in La Bohème, having also appeared in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Carmen, Cavalleria Rusticana, and Suor Angelica. “Although a very fine brayer,” Novograd says, “he has not yet been given a singing role.”

Mary, Lucy, and Ruby
Mary, Lucy, and Ruby The Metropolitan Opera

Lord, a 17-year-old Standardbred horse rescued from the racetrack, has pulled Musetta’s carriage in La Bohème since 2015. In addition to his work at the Met, his TV and film credits include Boardwalk Empire and Wonderstruck.

Thomas Adès’s surrealist new opera The Exterminating Angel calls for wandering sheep in the midst of a dinner party gone terribly awry. Answering the call at the Met are a trio of sheep who, according to Novograd, spend their non-working days on a farm in Wallkill, New York, “eating, drinking, and hanging out with goats and a guard donkey.”


For the latest news and features about CLASSICAL MUSIC, OPERA and DANCE follow our NEW Classical Arts social channels!

Recommended Reading:
 X

Blocking belongs
on the stage,
not on websites.

Our website is made possible by
displaying online advertisements to our visitors.

Please consider supporting us by
whitelisting playbill.com with your ad blocker.
Thank you!