The Finnish National Opera is holding open auditions for an unusual position in a forthcoming production: guard dog. The company needs an unusually calm German Shepherd to play a crucial role in Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which arrives in Helsinki in December following a run in Oslo.
The breed is not known for nerves of steel, but that's what's required when the curtain goes up. The tale of forbidden love, murder, intrigue and betrayal culminates in two lovers being sent to Siberia — and the prison camp scenes should be authentic.
"A retired sniffer dog would be perfect," said producer Miia Lallukka. "The dog will come on stage along with prison guards, so it's a guard dog at a prison camp. The dog will be on stage for about half an hour."
This role was not part of the original 1930s production, but the Oslo production includes man's best friend. Lallukka has been to Norway to see how the Norwegians made it work.
"Between the second and third acts, when the set is changed and there's a lot going on, the owner brings the dog on in the middle of everything," said Lallukka. "Such an unusual situation stuck in my mind. When the fourth act began, the dog was used to the situation and ready to go on stage."
Lallukka has previous canine experience. In the Opera's current production of the Barber of Seville, two poodles are on stage. There has also been a horse in Don Carlos, and production staff know what's required to get the best out of four-legged performers.
"Animals demand special arrangements," said Lallukka. "They have to have the right conditions, handlers and so on."
The dog's owner is vital, according to Lallukka.
"The owner makes the dog feel safe," notes Lallukka. "He sits on set so the dog can see his owner at all times. A calm owner calms down the dog too, even though there's a lot going on around him on stage."
Auditions are planned for 7 December, and the successful applicant (or his owner) will receive 100 euros for each of the eight performances.