Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Carmen in Pop Culture

Carmen is often described as the most popular opera of all time, so it should come as no surprise that its music has been referenced by everything from the Muppets to Major League Baseball. Here we’ve compiled some of our favorite nods to Bizet’s masterpiece.

In Carmen’s first iterations (the 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée and 1875 opera by Bizet), white French audiences viewed the exotic bohemian color, bull fights, and seductive so-called Spanish dances from a comfortable distance. Centuries later, African and African American adaptations of Carmen have interrupted the transgressive  role of Carmen. In all-Black settings such as the 1954 film Carmen Jones and Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2001), Carmen has become less of a story of an outsider and the "exotic other."

Each year, Doritos hosts a competition where viewers can vote on which ad they’d like to see during the Super Bowl. This one, featuring the “Habanera,” was one of the finalists in 2007:

We’ve heard this famous piece of music many other places, too—including The Muppets, which showcased Beaker’s incomparable vocal skills, as accompanied by the Swedish Chef. The highlight of this clip, though, may be the cameo appearance by Animal.

Sesame Street also used the “Habanera,” in a clip starring mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, regarded as one of the great Carmen singers of all time, and one of the great mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century. 

Other kids’ programs have gotten in on the fun, like Tom and Jerry, which spoofed Carmen in its 1962 short "Carmen Get It!"

Those tuned into 'toons in the ‘90s may be more likely to remember The Animaniacs’ take on Carmen, in a segment entitled "O Silly Mio." Fans of the FOX show Family Guy may remember a 2002 episode in which Brian the dog bonds with an elderly woman after hearing her sing the "Habanera."

Despite the fact that Carmen is a French opera with a Spanish setting, its music has frequently been heard in pasta commercials. The logic is a little flawed—these commercials are trying to emphasize Italian culture, after all. But it adds a new level of (unintentional?) humor to something like this Bertolli spot.

For an intentionally funny bit, we can look to the Marx Brothers. In their 1929 film The Cocoanutsa song about lost-and-found shirts, of all things, is set to some familiar music. In the time since then, tunes from Carmen have made frequent appearances in the soundtracks and trailers of other comedy films (never mind that the opera itself has a tragic ending!). Wild Hogs in 2007 and Fool’s Gold in 2008 had the music in its trailers, and 1976 baseball classic The Bad News Bears used Carmen all throughout the film, juxtaposing the beauty of Bizet's music with the awful playing of the starring baseball team.

Perhaps the most memorable of these references is the appearance of the “Habanera” in the 2009 hit Disney/Pixar film, Up.

Carmen plays May 4-19, 2019 at McCaw Hall.
Tickets & info: