All Tame Animals currently has 100 sheep in a production at the Park Avenue Armory. 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 favorite 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 the cavernous Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory through Wednesday.
And while the sheep are garnering great reviews - Anthony Tommasini, the chief classical music critic for The New York Times, wrote that "their occasional bleating lent a lovely natural touch to the score" - their farm-to-stage odyssey has been anything but straightforward. Simply getting hold of so many stage-ready sheep was an exceptionally difficult bit of opera casting, even in an era in which great Verdi singers are rare and true Wagnerian heldentenors are almost nonexistent. You cannot simply call the usual power-agents in New York or London.
"It was a 'Mission Impossible' kind of thing," said Paul Novograd, the large-animal coordinator with All Tame Animals, an agency that provides animals for theater, operas, film and photo shoots. "The performance was scheduled in the middle of lambing season, so to find sheep that weren't pregnant or weren't still lactating was doubly difficult."
His hopes were raised when a farmer with a large flock, usually used for sheepdog trials, expressed an interest in the project - and then dashed when the farmer decided not to let his animals tread the boards after all.
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