“What’s Opera Doc?” (1957) achieved what few parodies can do, and that is to create something original on its own, a genius apart from the parody. Cartoons, especially classic Warner Bros. cartoons, featured a lot of classical music, and I don’t know how old I was before I realized this Wagner fellow, and his cohorts Franz von Suppé, Rossini, and the like did not write special music for the cartoons. I cannot hear “Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna” without thinking of “Baton Bunny,” (1959) nor hear Gioachino Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” without thinking of the immortal lines, “Yell and scream and rant and rave/it’s no use, you need a shave.”
Still, in “What’s Opera, Doc?” we go beyond popular culture to the heights of a Valhalla where Elmer Fudd as Siegfried, voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan, conjures supernatural forces in his spear and magic hewmet, “Be vewy quIET…I’m hunting WAbbits.” We know this is to be a special performance just by they way we hear the orchestra tuning up over the opening credits. Excitement builds.
Is there nothing so majestic, so savage, so telling of human passions as, “Kiwuh da wabbit, kiwuh da WABBIT, WIWUH DA WABbit?” My only regret is that there seems to be no film footage of Mr. Bryan, and Mel Blanc, who voiced Bugs Bunny, singing operatic duets in a sound recording studio. Did they not know they were creating magic that should have been documented? Or, was schlepping to the studio to lay down a few voice tracks about a hunter and a rabbit so ordinary that it was considered routine? Impossible.
The other dynamic duo, director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese, could have been filmed as well as they story boarded this cartoon. That, too, might have been magic.
Bugs makes his entrance in drag on an obese horse. Why Bugs Bunny in drag is always so funny, I have no idea, but it is. After Elmer falls in love with the ravishing Brunhilde, and after an impromptu ballet, the strains of “Retoin my wuv” are heard in Mr. Blanc’s Brooklyn tenor and Mr. Bryan’s front parlor baritone in perhaps the most romantic duet ever performed. Seriously. No, really.
Of course, this being an opera, the fates intervene and Elmer discovers his wovwey Brunhilde is only that rabbit, and his rage bears the fires of hell. He calls upon the very lightning to smite the rabbit, whom he carries, with remorse, in his arms to a peaceful eternal rest. As Bugs says, “What’d you expect in an opera? A happy ending?”
It is more than perfect parody, it is a perfect 6-minute opera.
I wish Wagner could have seen it. His rage would have been almost as spectacular as Elmer’s. He had no sense of humor.
That's all for this week. See you Monday.