Thursday, December 01, 2005
Long before Bob Seger “loaned” his hit song “Like a Rock” (for a pretty penny, I’m sure) to the folks at Chevrolet to help sell pickup trucks, opera tunes were heard in TV commercials to promote a variety of products. Part of the fun involves identifying what’s being played, which can be difficult when only a few bars of music might be used. I’m sure that one of the main reasons for this is the fact that nearly all opera is in the public domain and consequently royalty-free.
Then there is the employment of opera as background music in film. Perhaps the most notable involves a plot point in “Moonstruck” where Nicholas Cage and Cher attend a Met performance of “La Boheme.” The soundtrack includes the luscious voices of Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi. In the foreign film, “Diva,” the title character is secretly taped singing “Ebben?” from Catalani’s “La Wally,” a rarely performed & rarely recorded opera that has almost no redeeming value beyond this one aria. The clearly awful “Pretty Woman” featured music from “La Traviata.” The nearly-as-awful “Fatal Attraction” included “Un bel di” from “Madama Butterfly.” The Tom Hanks Oscar-winning vehicle “Philadelphia” is clearly enhanced by music from “Andrea Chenier.” Going back a ways, “Godfather III” employed the intermezzo from “Cavalleria Rusticana” (which shows up all over the place, it seems), and “Wall Street” contained an oddly truncated version of the already short “Questa o quella” from “Rigoletto.” I’m sure that there are many other examples, and I welcome suggestions from readers.
The Marx Brothers use Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” as their primary vehicle of satire in “A Night at the Opera,” although “Pagliacci” makes an early and brief appearance in the film as well when the action is centered in Milan, presumably at La Scala. The movie’s chaotic climax includes Azucena’s campfire aria, with Harpo and Chico stealing the scene dressed as fellow gypsies. The opera incongruously ends with the duet between Manrico and Leonora, bringing down the curtain well before the opera’s actual ending, where Manrico is beheaded (offstage) and the Count di Luna is informed that he has ordered the death of his brother!
One of the funniest episodes of “Seinfeld” uses the overture from “Barber of Seville” to dramatize the antics of two Italian barbers vying for Jerry’s business. And even “The Simpsons” are not immune to the use of opera to further a storyline. In the “Mr. Plow” episode, Homer’s late-night TV commercial features a surrealistic scene that has nothing to do with snow removal while music from Bellini’s “Norma” plays. [Marge: “Is that your commercial?” Homer: “I’m not sure!”] In an episode from a much earlier season, the family attends a performance of “Carmen” sung entirely in Russian. I can’t even begin to imagine where the producers found THAT recording?
BTW, that reference was not to Frank Gorshin (which would have been MUCH cooler) but to that awful Matthew Lesko that peddles those "get free money from the gov't" books.
Welcome to the blogosphere. :)