100 sheep star in opera

NEW YORK • The unlikeliest stars of New York's spring opera season were raised humbly in rural Pennsylvania on pop and country- western music, but they are already showing prima donna tendencies. Not only did a whole new dressing room have to be built for them backstage, but it also had to be soundproofed and kept fully stocked with their favourite snacks: grain and a hay mixture of timothy, orchard grass and red clover.

The scene-stealers in question are the 100 sheep that appear in an eerie, endearing section near the end of Heiner Goebbels's dreamlike staging of Louis Andriessen's De Materie, a Dutch avant-garde work from 1988 being performed in Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory through Wednesday.

While the sheep are garnering great reviews, their farm-to-stage odyssey has been anything but straightforward.

One could not simply call the usual power-agents in New York or London.

"It was a Mission Impossible kind of thing," said Mr Paul Novograd, the large-animal coordinator with All Tame Animals, an agency that provides animals for theatre, operas, film and photo shoots.

Ms Cassie Schweighofer, a sheep farmer at Twin Brook Farms in Tyler Hill, Pennsylvania, recalled seeing one of Mr Novograd's pleas last fall on a Listserv for sheep and goat producers - and deleting it.

"I thought it was ridiculous," she said. But when she saw another request again in January, her curiosity was piqued and she reconsidered.

There is no indication of sheep in Andriessen's score, which was first staged by Robert Wilson in 1989. The Armory production, which originated at the Ruhrtriennale in Germany in 2014, is directed by Goebbels, who said he decided to use the sheep as part of his effort to "build a space onstage in which the imagination of the audience can take place".

He said: "I just wanted animals to do what they do. It's very poetic, and unpredictable. You never know what they're doing next."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline '100 sheep star in opera'. Print Edition | Subscribe