Luca Pisaroni is an internationally acclaimed Italian bass-baritone, particularly known for his roles in Mozart operas. He tells Joanne Bednall why his globe-trotting canine companions are vital for his peace of mind and his performance.
Born in Venezuela, he lives in Vienna, Austria, with his wife Catherine, a web designer, and their Miniature Long Haired Dachshund, Tristan, and Golden Retriever Lenny 2.0.
The two dogs are never far from Luca’s side, and accompany him all over the world. They have their own social media following, and have become canine celebrities in their own right, with fans queuing at stage doors to greet or ask after them. Yet being a dog lover — let alone owning two — had never been on Luca’s agenda.
Q) Is it true that up until the age of 27, you were scared of dogs?
A) “My parents never had a dog and I was terrified of them. Dogs must have been able to sense my fear because every time I walked past them, they barked at me and made me even more scared.”
Q) So what lead to this remarkable turnaround?
A) “In 2002, I met my wife, Catherine, in Salzburg, and she had a Golden Retriever called Lenny. At first, I was scared of him, but as soon as we made friends, every other dog stopped barking at me — it was amazing.”
Q) What was the secret to your befriending of Lenny?
A) “At the time, Catherine was studying for her Master’s degree so went out of the house early every day, leaving Lenny and me alone together. That first day, Lenny looked at me and I looked at him, and I thought: ‘What are we going to do?’ So I took him for a walk and that was the start of establishing a bond. Walking is the most intimate thing you can do with a dog, next to feeding them, and from that day on, we were best friends.”
Q) It must have been heartbreaking to lose Lenny so suddenly.
A) “Two weeks before he died, Lenny was healthy and enjoying life, swimming in the sea in San Francisco. Then, one night, he seemed off-colour so we took him to the vet and he was diagnosed with a tumour on his spleen. It was such a shock. Although Lenny was 12, he behaved like a puppy. We’d got Miniature Long Haired Dachshund Tristan two years earlier to keep Lenny company. At first, Lenny hated him, but, three weeks on, they were best friends. After we lost Lenny, we found we could not live without the energy of a Golden Retriever in our lives so we got Lenny 2.0 (pronounced ‘two point zero’) as a puppy from a breeder in Austria. He is now seven-and-a-half and has been our therapy for losing Lenny 1. In many ways, it feels like Lenny 1 is still with us.”
Q) Tell us a little more about the personalities of Lenny 2.0 and Tristan.
A) “Lenny 2.0 is always in a good mood; always friendly. In fact, our walks end up being very long because he wants to say hello to every dog we meet. Lenny 1 was very intelligent and independent, a typical pack leader, while Lenny 2.0 is more sensitive and less of a leader. He looks at life with an ‘everything is great!’ attitude. But Catherine says he’s just a bit dumb!
“Tristan, meanwhile, is like a person trapped in a Miniature Dachshund’s body. Now aged nine, he’s a more complex character, very different to Lenny 2.0, and definitely the boss! I find it fascinating to watch the silent communication between them — their body language and the looks they give each other. They get on very well together.”
Q) What impact have Lenny 2.0 and Tristan had on your routine and life?
A) “Having dogs has made my life more bearable. Before, I wasn’t a morning person but now I find there’s nothing better than starting the day with a 45-minute to an hour’s walk — it’s much healthier than going from your bed to a desk with a coffee. So, I am awake faster and my voice and body are more focused — I’m much better prepared for the day.
“Walking the dogs is also the last thing I do after a show. My night walk at 1am is my favourite thing — it’s when I properly unwind and relax.
“I cannot imagine life without my dogs. I am a typical Gemini and am either very happy or very sad, and my dogs help to balance my moods. I couldn’t cope without them when I am on the road for 10 or 11 months of the year — they come with me 98 per cent of the time.”
Q) Which countries have they visited?
A) “Italy, Belgium, the UK, Holland, Germany, Spain, France, Canada and America — they especially love New York, where we take them swimming at Water4Dogs, which they love.”
Q) Do they cope well with all the travelling they do?
A) “They are amazing! Tristan gets so excited; he is in my bag as soon as I start packing. It is better if they are with us — they get more stressed being left behind.
“Both Tristan and Lenny sleep during flights, but Lenny isn’t so keen on cars and boats.
“They can be swimming in a river one day, then backstage at an opera house the next — they love the variety.”
Q) So Tristan and Lenny 2.0 don’t suffer from canine jet lag then?
A) “Sometimes they have jet lag, especially if we go to New York. They suddenly get very tired and are completely out of it for an hour. Then they wake up, and want their food or a walk.”
Q) Is it difficult finding dog-friendly places to stay?
A) “The first rule when booking accommodation is that it has to be dog-friendly — and we find most places are. We always offer a security deposit but Tristan and Lenny never do any damage. I try to find somewhere near a park — we stayed in Kensington last time we were in London and had a phenomenal time. It was so green — the best location. It doesn’t matter if we stay in a five-star hotel or the worst possible apartment, both dogs’ reactions are always the same: ‘OK — I like it here!’ They adapt really well, wherever we are, and are happy just being with us.”
Q) Do venues such as opera houses allow dogs?
A) “Some opera houses, such as Paris and Vienna, are dog friendly and Tristan and Lenny are allowed in my dressing room. If venues don’t allow dogs, both are happy staying in our hotel room or apartment with a bone or a chew.”
Q) How do you cope with the day-to-day stuff of canine ownership, such as making sure you have enough dog food when travelling abroad?
A) “As soon as I arrive somewhere, I carefully research the best quality dog food available in that country and buy it. Tristan and Lenny 2.0 have never had any stomach problems.”
Q) What one thing must you always remember to take on your travels?
A) “For Tristan, it’s his deep, fluffy bed because he’s a prince and thinks he’s royalty!
“I always make sure their bag is packed with bowls, brushes, a favourite toy, supplements, chewies, medication for their skin, eyes, and stomach — just in case — and a blanket with familiar smells so they know they’re home wherever we go.”
Q) Any tips for hassle-free travelling with dogs?
A) “Good organisation is key but travelling with dogs is not that complicated and involves no more planning than having kids. I make sure I know in advance all the rules regarding pet passports and the shots they’ll need for which country and when. My biggest fear is arriving somewhere and them having to go into quarantine because I’ve made a mistake. The first time we came to London, the UK government had recently changed the pet passport requirements, so I checked three times with Defra that I had the correct information.”
Q) How did Tristan and Lenny 2.0 come to have so many followers on social media?
A) “Both dogs are so entertaining and have such a lot of positive energy that their photos just happen — we rarely pose them. Because they are hilarious and make us smile, we thought they would make others smile too, so we decided to share their pictures with the world. They have more than 4,000 Facebook followers.”
Q) Any amusing moments that stand out in your memory?
A) “The dogs came to rehearsals when I was in London on tour. One time, the conductor, singers, and a 40-strong orchestra were there… but no Tristan.
“We eventually found him underneath the conductor’s chair, looking like he was passing judgement on the conductor’s performance. Everyone laughed; his presence changed people’s mood and lightened the atmosphere.
“Tristan even appeared with me in ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ at Salzburg in 2015. He came on stage, I gave him a biscuit, and he went off again — he was so good! I could hear the audience go ‘ahh’.”