How Bugs Bunny's "What's Opera, Doc?" Inspired a Generation of Opera Stars

(Image: Warner Bros.)

In 1957, Warner Bros. released "What's Opera, Doc?"-- one of the most famous Bugs Bunny cartoons of all time. It was a parody of Richard Wagner's operatic Ring Cycle. Generations of children grew up watching that short in theatres and on television. As one of the greatest of the Bugs Bunny cartoons, it became deeply embedded in popular culture.

Some of those children grew up to become professional opera singers. For them, "What's Opera, Doc?" was their introduction to opera. The Wall Street Journal quotes mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop:

Like many other singers and crew staging the 17-hour, four-opera Wagner extravaganza at the Kennedy Center, Ms. Bishop got her first taste of opera from a cartoon rabbit and his speech-impaired nemesis.

“I could sing you the entire cartoon before I knew what opera really was,” says Ms. Bishop, who performs the part of Fricka, wife of Wotan, king of the gods. […]

“Those of us who didn’t freak at the sight of a rabbit in a winged helmet sliding off of the back of a fat horse—we went into opera,” says Ms. Bishop, 49, who grew up in Greenville, S.C. […]

“Growing up in Iowa there’s not a lot of opera—I know that may come as a shock,” recalls Mr. Heaston, 37, a former pianist for the Dallas Opera and now adviser to the artistic director of the Washington National Opera. “At a very base level, that’s what I got from Looney Tunes at a very early age: I learned how to tell stories through music.”

-via Jeremy Barker


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