The first post I wrote talked about the prevalence of opera in movies due to its ability to communicate a wide range of emotions across language barriers. Opera is universal. Most people -- no matter their age, ethnicity or social standing -- have been exposed to some form of opera, even if they are not aware of it.
Lingering about the box office on opening night, striking up conversations with the patrons, it's always interesting to learn how different people became acquainted with opera. Many were introduced to it as children. Some were brought by their parents or participated in Florida Grand Opera's dress rehearsal program while in school. The best conversations, however, involve newcomers or skeptics who claim to have no connection to opera or classical music and watching them have a surprising recognition of a popular aria being performed in the theater.
They've never been to the opera. "Where have I heard that before?" they ask. The answer: their favorite cartoon, of course! For many of us, cartoons provided the first taste of this wonderful, transcendent art form.
Ready for a trip back in time? Here's our countdown of some of the best uses of opera in cartoons, as well as some honorable mentions for the use of classical music.
Having to do more with classical music than with opera, this honorable mention from the lovable Bugs Bunny makes fun of the seemingly quirky behavior of conductors, from their mannerisms to their attire and more.
This 1936 classic features Mickey as the conductor with Donald Duck and Clara Cluck as Romeo and Juliette. The cartoon opens with music from <em><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InPRlxxOpOc" target="_hplink">Act III of Wagner's Lohengrin</a></em>. Surprisingly, the music heard during the duet between Donald and Clara is actually from Verdi's <em>Rigoletto</em>, starting off with "<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI8pLMG8oJM&feature=plcp" target="_hplink">Questa o Quella</a>" and continuing with "<em><a href="http://youtu.be/Q4UdG9CXz1I" target="_hplink">Bella Figlia Dell Amore</a></em>".
Slappy's plans to take Skippy to a baseball game are interrupted when a performance by The Three Tenors (Luciano Pepperoni <em>et al</em>) is scheduled instead, featuring <a href="http://youtu.be/8A3zetSuYRg" target="_hplink"><em>La Donna e Mobile</em></a> from <em>Rigoletto </em>and many others. The Three Tenors close out the cartoon with a rendition of the Animaniacs theme song.
Tom chases Jerry into the new Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, managing to get in under the guise of a musician as the orchestra begins playing the "<em><a href="http://youtu.be/Ve-y86f__so" target="_hplink">Toreador's Song</a></em>". The cat and mouse cause all kinds of commotion, including changing the music using ants pretending to be musical notes and scaring away the soprano as she prepares to sing the "<em><a href="http://youtu.be/8w9yJdkeryI" target="_hplink">Habanera</a></em>".
The eighth episode of the seventeenth season, the plot places the Simpsons in Italy where they have an unexpected encounter with Sideshow Bob. The climax occurs when the entire family appears onstage in <em>Pagliacci</em> in an effort to avoid the attempted murder. They are instead cornered when Sideshow Bob emerges from a trap door on the stage singing "<em><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0PMq4XGtZ4" target="_hplink">Vesti la giubba</a></em>" - the musical embodiment of the tragic clown, which fits in perfectly in this scene.
This Nickelodeon show is about a group of middle school children. In this episode, their class puts on a version of the popular opera Carmen, adapting the lyrics of the "<em><a href="http://youtu.be/Ve-y86f__so" target="_hplink">The Toreador's Song</a></em>" and the "<em><a href="http://youtu.be/8w9yJdkeryI" target="_hplink">Habanera</a></em>" in way that merges the opera's storyline with that of the show.
As usual, Bugs Bunny is being chased by Elmer Fudd and tricks the hunter into going onstage where <em>The Barber of Seville</em> is being performed. Throughout the cartoon, we hear pieces of the <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OloXRhesab0" target="_hplink">overture </a>and even see references to the story, such as when Bugs transforms into a sexy temptress, who might be Rosina from the actual opera. The cartoon was released in 1950, and a young Justin Moss was among the first generation of kids for whom it served as an introduction to opera.
Bugs Bunny exacts revenge on an opera singer by posing as famed conductor Leopold Stokowski to take over the singer's concert. This cartoon features a number of classical pieces, including the famous sextet "<em><a href="http://youtu.be/iQw6YpjC9qI" target="_hplink">Chi Mi Frena In Tal Momento</a></em>" from Donizetti's <em>Lucia di Lammermoor</em>. The rabbit instructs the singer to sing a wide range of notes and even hold a high G for an impossible period of time, causing the entire stage to collapse on the unsuspecting performer. Bugs wins again!
*<a href="http://youtu.be/NWdLVQ4qpw8" target="_hplink"><strong>Embedded video disabled - click here for video</strong></a>* Despite the lack of thumbnail, this cartoon is highly recognizable and still earns top ranking in our list. The great canine opera singer, Poochini, kicks a magician out of his dressing room. Seeking revenge, the magician replaces the conductor on duty and plays tricks on the performer as he sings "<em><a href="http://youtu.be/TKDXr_fimQ8" target="_hplink">Largo al factotum</a></em>" from <em>The Barber of Seville</em>.
Arguably the most well-known representation of opera in a cartoon is Bugs Bunny's parody of Wagner's work, specifically <em><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Ring_des_Nibelungen" target="_hplink">Der Ring des Nibelungen</a></em> (<em>The Ring of the Nibelung</em>) and <em>Tannhäuser</em>. Famous lines from this cartoon include "Kill the wabbit, I'll do it with my spear and magic helmet," and, in a very observant conclusion, "Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?"
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