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Posts Tagged ‘Bugs Bunny’

Photo: Warner Brothers.
Bugs Bunny.

My husband was watching the Met’s Götterdämmerung around 4:30 this morning, so naturally I was reminded of Looney Tunes. Really. Bugs Bunny and the gang provided the best introduction to opera anywhere.

An article by Jaime Weinman at the Walrus (excerpted from his book Anvils, Mallets and Dynamite: The Unauthorized Biography of Looney Tunes) reflects on the durability of the Warner Brothers series.

“I grew up in a period when it seemed normal that a child born in 1976 would prefer to spend his Saturday morning watching cartoons from the 1940s and ’50s. A lot of the people I know enjoyed the same experience. Why did several generations watch old Looney Tunes alongside new work and actually prefer the stuff made before they were born? It was partly a historical accident caused by television’s demand for endless material at a relatively high cost. …

“Every television station required was a supply of preexisting content, something that might cost money to run but not to produce. The broadcasting rights for pre-1948 Warner Bros. cartoons weren’t very expensive, and the show was far better than most of the programming available for the same price.

“So part of Looney Tunes’ enduring success reflects the simple power of money. They were made for the big screen, and while they weren’t lavishly budgeted compared to the cartoons of Disney, they had much more time and per-unit money than television cartoons. On television, the Looneys were up against shows that had to turn out twenty-two minutes per week and looked like it. … Looney Tunes seemed edgier and freer than the new material. …

“However much kids loved watching Looney Tunes, the cartoons never got the credit they deserved. There hasn’t been much mainstream film criticism about them. When they were being made, they were almost totally ignored by all but two critics: James Agee and Manny Farber. Later, after the cartoons started appearing on TV, younger critics got interested. …

“The case has sometimes been made for the great Looney Tunes characters as underdogs, but it’s never a convincing case because the characters aren’t actually struggling against anything. They seldom have to try hard: as long as it’s funny, they can produce a weapon out of nowhere, and the most horrific acts of violence cause them no stronger reaction than irritation. In a more serious comedy, the characters feel an exaggerated version of what we might feel in their shoes, whether anger, fear, or determination. We can’t usually identify much with a Looney Tunes character because we know that nothing has consequences for them. …

“Bill Scott, who co-wrote cartoons at Warner Bros. for several years and then moved to [United Productions of America, the cartoon studio usually considered the most artistic and ambitious] said that ‘the kiss of death at UPA was to be considered a Warner Brothers writer.’ Looney Tunes writers, he added, were dismissed as ‘clothesline gag’ writers, for whom a story was just a cheap, insubstantial way to support the gags.

“That description wasn’t exactly wrong. If Warner Bros. creators have a choice between telling a joke and giving the film a consistent style, they’ll almost always choose the joke. …

“Warner Bros. cartoons had arguably the best soundtracks in American film comedy. Mel Blanc, who voiced all the important recurring characters except Elmer Fudd, was so essential to the studio that he became the first voice actor ever to get credit for short cartoons; composer Carl Stalling, who essentially invented the art of animated movie music when he worked for Disney, spent most of his career at Warner Bros., working closely with the directors (and sound effects wizard Treg Brown) to set a tempo for all the animated action and make sure that the sounds and movements complemented each other perfectly. The result of all this is a series where the dialogue has the wise-guy tone and fast pace of radio comedy, the music is funny, the animation is funny, the sound effects are funny, and none of them ever do something that’s redundant. …

“Like music, the laughs come from timing and rhythm. The gag is divided into three basic beats: Bugs hands the firecracker to the parrot; the firecracker explodes; the smoke clears, showing the ashen but otherwise unharmed bird. This all happens in just a few seconds, but each of these beats is held just long enough for it to play properly.” More at the Walrus, here.

To return to where I started today, here are a few online reviews of the Looney Tunes opera themes.

On “What’s Opera, Doc?” … “Elmer Fudd becomes the hero of Siegfried as he woos Brunhilde (played by Bugs Bunny in drag–if a rabbit can be in drag). This is a classic animated feature with full orchestration. It integrates the eternal effort of Elmer to kill the wabbit while repeatedly falling for the smart alecky rodent. The singing, of course, is quite horrible, but great credit to Mel Blanc for carrying on and staying in tune. What a remarkable talent Blanc was!”

On “Long-Haired Hare” … “Here Bugs takes his revenge on an opera singer named Giovanni Jones and does so with hilarious consequences. The last few minutes are absolutely priceless and one of my all time favourite endings in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Mel Blanc is brilliant as Bugs and Nicolai Shutorov gives a bravura singing performance as Giovanni.”

On “The Rabbit of Seville” … Bugs and Elmer “wander on to an opera stage and continue their combativeness to the music of the Barber of Seville. Apparently, there was a time when the average citizen had a thing for opera and these cartoon presentations fed into that. Anyway, the pacing is masterful. Elmer is about as gullible as he can be, and Bugs takes advantage at every turn. The pacing of the famous musical piece works very well and our two heroes find their way to a masterful conclusion.”

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Photo: Warner Bros. via Wikipedia
In 1957, Warner Bros. released a Bugs Bunny version of the Wagner opera
The Ring of the Nibelung. Creative folks are still thinking up engaging ways to involve children in the beauty and hilarity of opera.

If you love the field you are in and if you have some imagination, there’s always a way to inspire even the youngest children with your enthusiasm.

Michael Andor Brodeur writes about one recent example at the Washington Post.

“Like many a music lover of an age we needn’t get into here, my formative education in classical music and opera came straight from the masters: Bugs, Elmer, Porky. Bugs Bunny was my first Brünnhilde. (So I guess he introduced me to drag as well. Different story.)

“Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Silly Symphonies taught my wee ears how to listen, how to synthesize the music in my imagination with color, movement, emotion and irony. It was like a crash-bang-boom course in how to read sound: The vastness of Wagner became suddenly legible in the context of wabbit-killing.
Kids today are a bit more hands-on, as I discovered during a recent session of ‘Opera Starts With Oh!,’ an opera education program for ages 3 to 7, run by the D.C. and NYC-based company Opera Lafayette. …

“Each installment I watched of ‘Opera Starts With Oh!’ — helmed by director, choreographer and teaching artist Emma Jaster and Opera Lafayette community engagement manager Ersian François — kept its grid of budding opera buffs rapt with an action-packed half-hour of activities, performances and assorted operatic antics.

“ ‘Opera Starts With Oh!’ originated in 2018 as an in-person program to accompany productions in progress, but in its Zoom-based incarnation, each themed installment [centers] on a visit from a guest artist and a simple lesson. …

“At a recent workshop, the Zoom grid filled up fast with small faces smooshed into the frame. It was easily the most entertaining Zoom meeting I’ve had since this whole thing started.

“Lucy and Phoebe were sporting matching unicorn horns and dancing in circles whenever music played. Theodor was paying attention but kept changing his background — first it was outer space, then it was a hedgehog. Gabriel, Massimo and Timothy all crammed attentively into one square.

“Jaster led a round of warm-up exercises (her 6-year-old Ellis popping in and out of view), Nero performed the Passacaille from Lully’s ‘Armide’ (a performance of which Opera Lafayette recorded in 2007) and François skillfully moderated a quick Q&A session (turns out kids are way better at the muting/unmuting thing than adults).

“By the end of it, Helen, who had been pretty quiet up to that point, politely raised her hand, unmuted, and let the group know: ‘I think I want to play the violin.’ …

“ ‘I didn’t get to attend my first opera until I was about 26 years old, particularly because it’s a pretty expensive endeavor to attend an opera,’ says Natalia Lopez-Hurst, mother of Gabriel, Massimo and Timothy. ‘So I wanted to start my kids early with the exposure. I feel like opera encompasses so many different forms of art … We use it as a steppingstone to teach them about art, as well as history, as well as geography.’

“For Jaster, the kinetic goals of the workshop are as important as the aesthetic ones.

“ ‘I’m a movement director and choreographer, that’s how I came to opera,’ says Jaster, ‘But I have a 5-year-old and I live and witness every day how much children need to move their bodies.’ …

“Thus, much of the unbound energy that animates an average ‘Opera Starts With Oh!’ is channeled into twirling, interpretive dance, vocal exercises and functional training (like ‘finger ripples’) for aspiring virtuosos. ..

“ ‘What’s a fun way to take what we’ve learned and make it something that these children will do and be engaged with beyond and outside of this 30 minutes?’ says Jaster. ‘As a parent, 30 minutes is not a lot of the time that I actually need to occupy from my child’s day. So the more the children can be inspired to take this along and then go and make their own performance for all of their stuffed animals — that’s where I want to be.’ ”

More here.

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