Friday, January 7, 2011

BARBER in Popular Culture

Maybe you’ve seen a performance of Rossini’s Barber of Seville before, or maybe your visit to McCaw Hall this month for Seattle Opera’s production, running January 15-29, will be your first time witnessing this fun and frothy spectacle. But if you think you’ve never heard the music, think again. Between Barber’s famous overture and Figaro’s "Largo al factotum" aria, the music of this comic opera is deeply embedded in pop culture.

Those who grew up watching Looney Tunes will no doubt recall "The Rabbit of Seville," in which Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd enact their endless battle while singing along to the opera's overture. In this clip, Bugs plays the role of a barber who tosses an elaborate salad on top of Elmer’s bald head. "The Rabbit of Seville" was originally released in 1949, but thanks to reruns and its status as one of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time, it’s been enjoyed by generations of comedy fans since.

Warner Bros. and Bugs weren’t alone—or first—in their reverence for Barber. Five years earlier, rival studio Universal made a short animated film starring Woody Woodpecker, who takes over a barbershop for a day and sings “Largo al factotum” (beginning at 4:15 here) as he gets patrons all lathered up:

Barber references aren’t just for animated comedy. ‘90s sitcom Seinfeld got in on the joke with the episode “The Barber,” in which Jerry starts seeing a new barber, a fact which he tries to hide from his previous—and very jealous—hairdresser, Enzo. Instead of using the sounds of a slap-bass throughout the episode as usual, music from The Barber of Seville was substituted for the episode’s soundtrack. In this clip, you can hear a bit of Barber intro the scene:

The music is showcased in full-force (and in hilarious fashion) just a few moments later.

Seinfeld, of course, wasn’t for all ages—but even kids who were just growing up in the ‘90s had a chance to hear a bit of Rossini in the contemporary cartoon series Tom and Jerry’s Kids Show. Here, the dog Droopy makes an impressively mustachioed Figaro, while his son watches on appreciatively from the prompter's box.

Even more recently, The Simpsons parodied the opera world in an episode that had a Barber-influenced title: “Homer of Seville.”

Mrs. Doubtfire fans might remember "Largo" being featured in the opening of the film, and Little Rascal fans can catch Alfalfa making his operatic debut with his take on Barber in this clip.

But what gets our vote for the most unique interpretation of that captivating overture? It's definitely this performance by British a cappella group The King's Singers. Yes. An a cappella group singing an instrumental overture. Trust us when we say it's pretty surprising -- and entertaining: