Yes, there will be no elephants on stage when Opera Pacific presents Verdi's "Aida" beginning Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Or horses, or camels.
"Just lots of people," Opera Pacific general director David DiChiera confirmed Wednesday. "Animals are being seen less and less on stage these days. We have found that animal-rights groups are very uncomfortable now with the use of animals on stage. They want to know how the animal is being handled and treated, whether there is any undue stress to the animal. It's become an issue which never existed 10 years ago."
That sensitivity was reflected when San Francisco Opera presented the U.S. premiere of Hans Werner Henze's opera, "Das Verratene Meer" in 1991. There is a scene in the opera in which a school gang kills and dissects a cat.
The SFO management added this note, in bold face and set off in a black-bordered box, after the plot synopsis:
"NOTICE: The kitten used in all performances of 'Das Verratene Meer' is at no time in any danger of mistreatment and is at all times under the supervision of a professional handler. At the appropriate moment in the opera, it is replaced by a prop, while the live kitten ends up safely backstage."
DiChiera said that people expect elephants in "Aida" simply "because of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. So many Americans have seen 'Aida' there. Inevitably, they'll have (the hero) Radames coming in a procession led by several horses. The Nile Scene there has a camel.
"Actually, I've never seen an elephant in 'Aida.' I've seen horses, and I've seen a camel at Caracalla. Even in (the amphitheater in) Verona, the other biggie, I don't think I've even seen elephants."
Another reason for not employing animals in a production is that you don't always know what they'll do. "We did use a horse in the last 'Aida' we did here in 1988," DiChiera said. "We didn't have a mishap on stage, thank God." But he's quick to point out that the possibility exists: "You know the famous story about (conductor) Thomas Beecham? He was conducting a production of 'Aida,' I think. There was a horse on stage and he had a bowel movement, and Beecham said, 'Oh my, a critic.' "
Another reason has to do with negotiating the animal around the set. "There is so much structure, in terms of sets," DiChiera said. "There is not that much room on stage. You need a lot of room for an animal. They don't walk through flats very easily, and the stage is very full, particularly now that we've found our fourth truck (which was stolen last weekend but recovered)."--