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Doggie divas and musical mutts: PTC presents ‘Dog Operas’

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BANGOR – Penobscot Theatre Company is going to the dogs.

As part of the theatre’s ongoing Digitus Theatrum season, PTC is presenting “The Dog Operas,” a series of three streaming performances set to roll out over the coming weeks. These pieces are the result of a lengthy canine/human collaboration, a multi-species team-up the likes of which the theatre world has never seen.

The first dog opera – “The Barker of Seville” – premiered on March 2. Subsequent operas – “Tosca the Ball” and “Dog Giovanni” – will become available on April 6 and May 4, respectively. Household tickets for all three “pupperas” are $40; the rate for PTC subscribers is $35. These tickets can be purchased through the PTC website at www.penobscottheatre.org or by calling the box office at 942-3333.

I should probably introduce myself. My name is Stella. I’m a Carolina dog whose age is none of your beeswax. My dad Allen is the editor of The Maine Edge. He knew that he wanted something special for this story, but he wasn’t sure what to do. Typical human, right? I let him try to work it out for himself for a while, but when it became clear how clueless he was, I finally gave him a nudge.

Now, this isn’t my usual beat. My primary gig has been working with my dad on the ongoing football picks feature “Kibbles & Picks” – I haven’t really done much in the way of arts coverage, but I figured if my dad can manage it, how hard can it be?

Of course, dog reporting is considerably different than human reporting. Humans need to have all these face-to-face conversations and spend all kinds of time staring at glowing rectangles. Not us canines – I just went for a walk and sent a couple of pee-mails. Word spreads pretty quickly in the doggie community, so it was just a matter of hours before I got some responses – some via howl, others simply through pee-mail responses (although someone – I’m not going to say who – did a pee-ply all that was just a nightmare to sift through).

Check out these bark-downs of the three Dog Operas, as well as some brief snippets from the stars:

“The Barker of Seville” is the story of the fair Rosina (Zuzu; bulldog) being pursued by the odious Count Barktolo (Ty; golden retriever). Count Almaviva (Iggy; mixed breed) loves Rosina, but has no idea how to thwart the scheming Barktolo. It’s up to Almaviva’s servant Figaro (Sir Toby; Maltese) – the titular Barker of Seville – to figure out how to save the day.

(Note: “The Barker of Seville” is dedicated to the memory of Zuzu, the leading lady who recently crossed the Rainbow Bridge.)

“Playing the villain was rough,” Ty told me. “By nature, I’m pretty happy go-lucky, so it required me to really separate myself from the character while also staying within my truth. Being the bad guy isn’t easy when you’re a good boy.”

“It’s just acting, right?” I replied. “You’re just pretending to be bad, because you’re obviously a good boy.”

“I am,” he said after a paws. “I AM a good boy!”

“Tosca the Ball” is a simple story driven by a simple question: Tosca (Iggy) does not know where the ball is. Where is it? Who has Tosca’s ball? It seems that Scarpia (Max; poodle) has stolen it and has thus potentially endangered the dreams of being best in show. It is left to true love Caradoggi (Rusty) to come to the rescue. Also features Xander (Dachsund mix) as Angelotti and Trout (a cat – CAT!!!) as Shepherd Cat.

“It’s heavy stuff,” said Iggy. “Like, the existential crisis that comes with not knowing where your ball is, that’s real. You can’t fake your way through it. You have to really BELIEVE that your ball is missing. I had to dig deep to get there emotionally – WAY deeper than if I was just burying a bone or one of Dad’s shoes.”

“And what was it like working with …. a cat?” I asked.

“Oh, Trout’s cool,” Iggy replied. “He’s one cool cat.”

Dog Giovanni” (released May 4)

Lock up your ladies, protect your chew toys and don’t give bad Dog Giovanni (Rookie; Mini-Australian Shepherd/poodle mix) any treats! Will he get away with being a bad boy furever? Or will Dogga Anna (Poppy; mixed breed), Dog Elvira (Hershel, mixed breed) and Zerlina (Leroy, ShiChi) get their revenge? Also: Leporello (Rusty) and Commandatore (Sir Toby).

I asked Sir Toby what it was like to play roles in more than one opera.

“It’s all about finding ways to evoke the character,” Sir Toby told me. “For instance, playing a servant was tricky because I’ve been knighted, you know? Ultimately, you must get to the core of who you’re playing. It’s all about finding the squeaker. Once you understand the squeaker, the rest of the character falls into place.

“Also, more roles equals more treats, so the more the merrier!”

Now, there are many humans who have contributed to “The Dog Operas.” The operas themselves were adapted by Larrance Fingerhut, who did the music, and Christie Robinson, who dealt with the lyrics. Much of the production was handled by Brad LaBree (film) and Kat Johnson (design).

(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Uncle Brad and Aunt Kat live down the street from me and I love them very much and I get very excited any time I see them and they are some of the very best humans that have ever humaned and did I mention that I love them very much?)

Also involved are a number of human vocalists: Frank Bachman, Elena Burns, Tina Burns, Ira Kramer, Annie Leonardi, Matt Madore and Josh Miller. Plus Aunt Kat! I love Aunt Kat! Did I mention I love Aunt Kat? Because I do! I’m leery of most cats, but this Kat is the best!

But we all know who the REAL stars are.

As a canine myself, I find it admirable that Penobscot Theatre is broadening their horizons with regard to the sorts of shows they’re producing, though I would be remiss if I failed to note the years of tremendous work the theatre has done in association with the Bangor Humane Society in helping to find homes for those of us who need them. We dogs (and cats too, I suppose) certainly deserve our share of the spotlight; kudos to PTC for finding a way to do that even in this complicated time.

Who’s a good theatre? Who’s a good theatre? You are, PTC. You are.

(For tickets or more information about PTC’s “Dog Operas,” visit the theatre’s website at www.penobscottheatre.org or contact the box office at 942-3333.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 02 March 2021 11:54

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