On this day, we remember what would have been the 99th birthday of one of our most memorable Listers, John Ersatzen, a bass who was one of our early members and most vocal champions. “Jack” was a warm, big-hearted guy who loved to sing and also loved his other passion: his pooch.
He had the most adorable, tiny little Yorkipoo named Beast, who could charm just about anyone at first sight. Beast’s little five-pound frame could be easily tucked into sleeves, pockets, etc and Jack really did take him everywhere, insisting, with tongue firmly in cheek, that his own beauty always had to be balanced by the Beast, or people “just wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
Things got very interesting about 6 months after the two met, when Jack first appeared as the Commendatore in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Rising from beneath the stage in a cloud of smoke and wearing a dark, ominous costume, he was also seen to be holding this tiny little pup in the crook of his downstage arm as he damned the Don with especially fine singing. The audience was understandably caught by surprise, and started to giggle a little. But then Beast started to snarl, as if on cue, and the result was so effective that onlookers were taken aback and utterly transfixed. Beast had been costumed in a matching three-cornered hat and mustache, making it obvious that this was a planned entrance. The director was lauded for her creativity and dog training skills, and the production was a monumental success.
When interviewed later, however, the stage director insisted that she had no idea this was going to happen. Apparently Jack had come up with it himself, the day before opening. He had told no one, arranged the costume, brought Beast into the dressing room where fellow cast members assumed the pup would wait as he did in rehearsals. Then Jack ran back before his entrance, saying he had forgotten something, and when Beast make his onstage debut, the snarling was just a coincidence. What’s an opera presenter to do?
Jack apologized to the company for the prank, but Beast’s appearance was so popular that they tried it again in rehearsal and decided to give the teeny canine his own contract: $10 per show, with extra liver treats for acting on command. He appeared in the following four performances, with varying results, but developed his own wildly devoted following.
This was before the social media juggernaut had taken hold, so we have no celebri-pup Instagram feed to chronicle Beast’s adventures. Jack retired from singing a few years after that production, and passed away in 2005. But the unusual duo will be fondly remembered by many opera fans in the area, and there is no doubt that their partnership will never be equaled.
Happy birthday, Jack!
Featured photo is a composite, as we have no pictures of Jack and Beast together.
As for the rest of you, Happy April Fool’s Day!