Opera is All Around You!
Opera is all around you, and you may not even know it. It can be found in cartoons, commercials, television shows, and movies. Below are just some of the ways opera has found a place in popular culture.
Many people of a certain age were introduced to opera through Warner Bros. cartoons such as those featuring Bugs Bunny in "Rabbit of Seville" and "What's Opera, Doc?" The first featured the overture to Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), and the second highlighted several Richard Wagner works, including Tannhäuser, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), and Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman). Watching Elmer Fudd singing "Kill the wabbit...kill the wabbit" to the tune of a Wagner opera is for many a staple of youth.
More recently, Looney Tunes characters performed to the Il barbiere di Siviglia overture with basketball legend Michael Jordon in the movie Space Jams. Toy Story 2 featured the overture to Rossini's William Tell, and Big Idea's VeggieTales recently released "Sumo at the Opera," which uses the operatic genre to tell how The Italian Scallion (played by Larry the Cucumber) learns the importance of perseverance.
Cartoons are not the only way children have been introduced to opera and musical theater. The Muppet Show and Sesame Street showcased several opera stars. Beverly Sills and Luciano Pavarotti are among the opera celebrities who have performed with the Muppets. In the 1980s, Placido Flamingo, a pink bird inspired by tenor Placido Domingo, appeared on Sesame Street as a regular character. More recently, Denyce Graves recorded "Elmo's Opera Lullaby."
Commercials have long used the universal appeal of opera to market products; some have even portrayed the stereotypical opera experience in humorous contrast to everyday activities. In one commercial, Miller Light took pro-football hall of famer Dick Butkus to the opera. In another, Michael J. Fox left an opera performance to get a Diet Pepsi, got locked out of the theater, and found his way to the middle of the stage during an Aida chorus.
In an award-winning ad campaign from Nike, basketball player Charles Barkley sang and dueled over sneakers to tunes from Il barbiere di Siviglia, surrounded by a chorus of referees, cheerleaders, and newsmen. Beyonce Knowles belted out the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen to sell Pepsi.
Music from operas is frequently used on television to advertise unrelated products. Other television advertisements that use opera are:
Did you know that "Here Comes the Bride" is from Wagner's opera Lohengrin? Perhaps you have seen it live at a wedding, but it is also frequently featured in movie wedding scenes such as in The Father of the Bride, The Wedding Planner, and In and Out, among many others.
It is impossible to list all the movies that use opera in the soundtrack. The list below highlights movies made in the past ten years, but notable earlier examples include Apocalypse Now, Fatal Attraction, The Godfather, Moonstruck, Philadelphia, Pretty Woman, and Shawshank Redemption.
The Lone Ranger's theme music is perhaps that most famous use of an opera. In fact, upon hearing Rossini's William Tell overture, most people think it originated as a TV theme song, rather than as a classical opera.
But opera is not just used as background music; going to the opera has also been featured as a major plot line on many shows, including:
The Days of our Lives
Singers from the stages of both opera and musical theater have also been featured guests on many radio and television shows, including:
Late Night with Conan O'Brien
Stars of Stage, Screen, and Opera
Celebrities have long been drawn to opera and musical theater. When a Broadway show premieres, it draws a who's who in pop culture. Los Angeles Opera also regularly hosts pop icons in the audience, and the New York City Opera recently hosted candidates from the reality show Who Wants to be a Hilton?
The stages of Broadway and opera have attracted many celebrities; most recently Sex and the City's Sarah Jessica Parker starred in Rodgers' Once Upon a Mattress, and Jeremy Irons appeared in Sondheim's A Little Night Music at New York City Opera.
Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline starred in the movie The Pirates of Penzance (based on Gilbert and Sullivan's opera of the same name), Carly Simon wrote an opera for children, and Michael Bolton released an entire CD devoted to opera, titled My Secret Passion: The Arias.
Even MTV has gotten in on the act, releasing the movie-musical Carmen: A Hip Hopera. This update to Bizet's Carmen feature rapping as well as singing, and stars pop singer Beyonce Knowles, actor Mekhi Phifer, and a cast of young actors and hip-hop performers.
Aretha Franklin sang a soulful "Nessun dorma" (from Puccini's Turandot) at the 1999 Grammy Awards, and Luciano Pavarotti - one of the "Three Tenors" who have gained widespread popularity - regularly produces charity concerts that have featured such mainstream artists as Bono and Meatloaf.
Did You Know that...
Sandra Bullock and Mariah Carey's mothers were opera singers? That Salma Hayek's sister is an opera singer? And that Mel Gibson's grandmother was an opera singer?
James Mitchell (Palmer Cortland on All My Children) danced in the ballet in the Oklahoma! movie, based on Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical?
The 1999 MTV music video awards were held at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, and featured an operatic theme?
There is an opera called Jerry Springer the Opera, which premiered in the United Kingdom?
Kenneth Branagh will direct a big screen version of the Mozart opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), which started shooting in January 2006 in London?
Rufus Wainwright is an opera enthusiast, and recently appeared with the New York City Opera?
Tenor David Miller of Il Divo performed Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann's La bohème on Broadway. But before that he sang with such opera companies as Los Angeles Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and Washington National Opera, among others.
Pink Floyd's Roger Waters composed an opera called Ca Ira, which recently hit #1 on Billboard's Classical Traditional Chart.
Lucy Lawless of Xena: The Warrior Princess, and Charlotte Ross, formerly of NYPD Blue, studied opera before they became famous?
Soprano Kathleen Battle and baritones Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Thomas Hampson have been selected by People magazine for their "50 Most Beautiful People" lists, and mezzo-soprano Angela Brown was named by Essence magazine as one of their 35 most beautiful women.
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