SFOpera - Top Dogs Train for the Opera Stage

Top Dogs Train for the Opera Stage

Two male Malinois (Belgian shepherds), Finn and Fubar, trained for weeks for their War Memorial Opera House debut in Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre (the second opera of the epic Ring cycle). In act two, scene two of the opera, you will see the dogs race across the stage, accompanying Hunding’s men in pursuit of Siegmund.

Finn is 4 years old and Fubar is 3 ½ years old. Finn lives in Berkeley with his owner, Renée, and Fubar lives in Castro Valley with his owner, Pat, who has been a professional dog trainer for 16 years and is the owner of the dog training company Barkeley K-9 University. During their time-off from rehearsals, they talked about life on stage and off.

FinnFINN

FubarFUBAR

Finn Fubar Owners FINN AND RENÉE, PAT AND FUBAR

Q&A with the Dog Owners

What excites you about your dogs performing in the Ring?

Pat (owner of Fubar): I am excited about this experience because it is different than anything I have done with my dogs before. I love to try new things in my dog training.

Renée (owner of Finn): Opera! SF Opera! I used to get standing room tickets. I love the City and the magnificence of the War Memorial Opera House. I’ve only had the now four-year-old Finn for a year. He is a fun Malinois and this is a great way to expand his world experience.

[Spoiler alert!] How do you get your dog to run across the stage?

Pat: To get Fubar to cross the stage I started by calling him a short distance and adding more distance a little at a time. Then, we had him being held from one side and called to the other. And, finally, he was cued by the person holding him to “go” and he has been doing great ever since.

What traits make for a great stage dog?

Pat: A great stage dog needs to be social, outgoing and stable around heavy distractions.

Favorite moment thus far?

Pat: The best part for me, so far, has been seeing how a production of this caliber is put together; I have never seen the behind the scenes work of an opera before.

Renée: Meeting Karita Mattila [Sieglinde]. She is so dynamic, in spirit and voice, but, most important, enthusiastic about Fubar and Finn.

How would you describe your dog’s breed?

Pat: I would describe my dog’s breed, Belgian Malinois, as very intelligent and high energy.

Renée: Finn is a Belgian Malinois, one of four varieties of Belgian Shepherds: Belgian Groenendael, Belgian Tervuren, Belgian Mainois and Belgian Laekenois. Finn is actually closer to the “Terv” because he is coated (longhaired), rather than the breed standard of being smooth coated (shorthaired). But his drive is that of a Malinois: hardworking, focused and a fast learner.

Any other pets in your home?

Renée: My husband, Hal, and I have Finn, Bu (my retired 9-year-old male Malinois sport dog) and KT (our 16-year-old female Dalmatian dog). It has taken some time for the two boys to share, but they are doing really well at learning how to take turns. KT rules them both.

Pat: Fubar shares his home with one other dog, three cats, two guinea pigs and five gold fish.

Q&A with the Dogs

What is your pre-show routine?

Fubar: Before the show, I like to run around in the grass of the horseshoe park [between the Opera House and the Veterans Building] and get some love from the stage crew.

Finn: My pre-show routine is to play and potty at Treasure Island. At the War Memorial Opera House, I do a little obedience, leash, walking and sniffing around. My favorite time is meeting and greeting with anyone who wants to pet my fluffy fur and get a “Scooby Doo” hug, and, of course, visiting the Props Department and seeing Lori Harrison, Master of Properties at San Francisco Opera.

Finn
FINN DOING HIS WAGNER HOMEWORK

What do you find challenging about this production?

Fubar: My biggest challenge, so far, has been to pull myself away from all the petting the crew gives me so I can get down to work.

Finn: Collecting my energy and slowing down when I run across the stage. I have a “Scooby Doo” slow down with the front paws flailing while the back paws attempt to put on the breaks. I have crashed into the stage equipment in the wings and into my owner, Renée…I flew by her and went downstairs and made a U-turn attempt to go back on stage!

What is your favorite moment in the show?

Fubar: When I get to run across stage and show off all my hard work.

Finn: Barking in the wings to Hunding's horn (the three trombones in the wings) and then chasing Fubar across the stage. In Walküre, we are essentially part of Hunding’s gang of thugs who are tracking down Siegmund after his theft of Sieglinde from Hunding. We are hunting dogs and we run across the stage essentially as the leaders of Hunding’s gang.

What are your best pet tricks?

Fubar: I love to do tricks like sitting pretty, weaving through my dad’s legs and retrieving various items like keys and wallets.

Finn: “Spiderman” (a version of a handstand), spins and twists, bark, “be still” (balance a treat, toss it and catch it). I enjoy the interaction and rewards.

What is your favorite treat?

Fubar: Soft chewy sausages!

Finn: String cheese!

Doggy Cam Image

View Finn and Fubar's debuts by clicking the image above!

Backstage with Matthew: The Immersive Ring
Backstage with Matthew: Controlled Conflagrations