With our ASL Opera project picking up steam, I was curious to know just how the “High Art” of Opera has influenced mainstream American culture over the last 50 years or so, and I was surprised to learn, via ChatGPT-4 AI, just how deeply many of the most famous Opera melodies made their way into our shared childhoods and our culturally maintained totems of relevance!

As a young child growing up in the barren Midwest, I was delighted to appear in several Operas: Albert Herring, and Carmen and Così fan tutte and in that memory of my childhood, I recall several unifications of comedy and sublimity engaging in cartoons and classic Opera arias! I get the reason why: Opera music is free to use, it is out of Copyright protection, and the music, and melodies, are universal in exchange, creating the perfect storm between interpretation, and performance!

You wouldn’t naturally think that Opera and children’s cartoons go together, and that they can influence one another, can coconspire in the same mindspace and playspace, but that’s exactly the beauty of this sort of majestic Art — where one thing becomes another, and everything, in its essence, belongs to another. We are each other. We become our enemies. Our enemies befriend us because life is a swirl of experience, and emotion, and we are never, ever, just one thing or only one life.

So, here we go in our Operatic analysis! Here are some of the stories you already know as popular musicals are based on Operas, including Rent (based on La Bohéme), Moulin Rouge! (La Traviata), and Aida (Aida). Many Operas are also based on classic plays. If you like Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives Of Windsor (or the Public Theater’s 2021 production of Merry Wives) check out Verdi’s Falstaff. If Greek tragedy is more your speed, give Medea a go.

Hey, sure, many classic Operas have also inspired adaptations in other forms of media. Here are more examples:

Broadway Shows:
1. “Miss Saigon” – This musical is based on Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly”, but moves the action to 1970s Vietnam during the final days of the Vietnam War.
2. “Aida” – The Elton John and Tim Rice musical is based on Verdi’s Opera of the same name, although the story and characters are significantly different.

1. “Moonstruck” – This 1987 film starring Cher and Nicolas Cage is not based on an Opera but has strong thematic links to Puccini’s “La Bohème” and especially “Tosca.”
2. “Carmen: A Hip Hopera” – This 2001 film is a contemporary adaptation of Bizet’s “Carmen”, starring Beyoncé in the title role.
3. “Madame Butterfly” – Several film adaptations have been made of this Puccini Opera, including a 1995 version directed by Frédéric Mitterrand.

Television Shows:
1. “The Simpsons” – The episode “The Homer of Seville” has Homer discovering a talent for Opera singing, with plot elements borrowed from several classic Operas.
2. “Hey Arnold!” – The episode “Eugene, Eugene!” is based on the Opera “Eugene Onegin” by Tchaikovsky.
3. “Looney Tunes” – The classic cartoon has several episodes that are inspired by or parody Opera, such as “What’s Opera, Doc?” (inspired by Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”) and “The Rabbit of Seville” (based on Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”).

Films which are screen adaptations of Operas, examples include:

  1. Don Giovanni, directed by Joseph Losey
  2. The Magic Flute, directed by Ingmar Bergman
  3. La traviata, directed by Franco Zeffirelli
  4. Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto Story
  5. Carmen, directed by Francesco Rosi
  6. Porgy and Bess, directed by Otto Preminger
  7. La Bohème, directed by Luigi Comencini
  8. Otello, directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Don’t leave out Children’s Television! Here are some classical Opera pieces that were used in Bugs Bunny cartoons:

  1. “Barber of Seville Overture” by Rossini: Featured in “The Rabbit of Seville” (1950) where Bugs assumes the title role and humiliates Elmer Fudd.
  2. “Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner: Although I was unable to find the specific episode, it was mentioned that this piece was used in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
  3. “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Liszt: Featured in “Rhapsody Rabbit” (1946).
  4. “Tales from the Vienna Woods, Op. 325” by Johann Strauss II: Featured in “A Corny Concerto” (1943) where Bugs is chased by Porky Pig and his dog to the music.
  5. “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II: Also used in “A Corny Concerto” (1943), this time as a bird-song based cover while Daffy Duck paddles over with his off-key honking.
  6. “Minute Waltz in D-Flat” by Chopin: Featured in “Hyde and Hare” (1955) where Bugs plays the piano in Dr. Jekyll’s house.
  7. “Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna” by von Suppé: Featured in “Baton Bunny” (1959) where Bugs conducts the piece.
  8. “Beethoven’s 7th” by Beethoven: Featured in “A Ham in a Role” (1949) where a snippet from the symphony is played during a ghost scene in Hamlet.
  9. “Träumerei” by Schumann: Featured in “Hare Ribbin’” (1944) where a segment of Schumann’s theme plays while Bugs’ latest tormentor mistakes him for dead.
  10. “Largo al Factotum” from “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini: Featured in “The Long-Haired Hare” (1949) where Bugs declares war after his musical instruments are destroyed by an Opera star.
  11. “Hungarian Dances” by Brahms: Featured in “Pigs in a Polka” (1943) where the “Three Little Pigs” fable is set to highlights from these dances.
  12. “William Tell Overture” by Rossini: Featured in “Bugs Bunny Rides Again” (1948) where the tune is used during a horseback chase sequence featuring Yosemite Sam.

Opera, and classical music arias, have played a major role in shaping common American mainstream culture. We must embrace this fading, Operatic, High Art, and allow it to seep back into the sleeping bones of our eternal youth!

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