Where have you heard that tune before?
Exploring The Barber of Seville in pop culture
Rossini’s score from The Barber of Seville has appeared countless times in the pop culture. From Bugs Bunny to Seinfeld and The Simpsons, can you place where you’ve heard Rossini’s famous music before?
Let’s begin by quickly reviewing two of the most famous tunes from
The Barber of Seville:
Composed by Gioachino Rossini. Libretto by Cesare Sterbini.
Animated Adventures and Beyond
Whether you’re deeply versed in the history of opera or have never been to a live performance, you’re bound to have heard the catchy tunes from this memorable score by Gioachino Rossini. The particularly effervescent and lively music from this ‘opera buffa’, or Italian comic opera, is so well suited to comedy that it has been the inspiration of countless tributes and parodies over its 200 year history.
A counterpoint to Fantasia
Many of the most enduring tributes to Barber come from a cartoon rivalry between early motion picture studios of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Disney’s feature-length Fantasia (1940) wowed audiences with its 126-minute long blending of classical music interpreted as cell animation. While Fantasia was a straightforward adaptation of the music, competing studios soon responded to Disney’s success by co-opting beloved classical music in the form of parody. No work was better suited for this task than The Barber of Seville.
Make way for Figaro
Rossini’s opera first introduces the titular barber Figaro with the famous aria “Largo al factotum” (loosely, ‘Make way for the Jack of all trades’). More commonly remembered as the ‘Figaro, Figaro, Figaro’ aria, this earworm has been performed by many of the 20th Century’s most beloved cartoon characters:
• In Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes short Notes to You (1941), the aria is sung by an alley cat who keeps Porky Pig from his slumber.
• Woody Woodpecker also sings the aria in Universal Pictures’ short The Barber of Seville (1944), playing a mischievous barber.
• Elmer Fudd and Sylvester the cat appear in 1948’s Looney Tunes short Back Alley Uproar, a remake of Notes to You.
• The Looney Tunes short Long-Haired Hare has Bugs Bunny posing as a conductor to conduct fictional opera singer Giovanni Jones in “Largo al factotum” in 1949.
• Bugs would soon get his own turn on the opera stage in 1950’s The Rabbit of Seville – possibly the most well-known animated parody of the opera – featuring Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and a quick shave to the overture from The Barber of Seville.
• Not to be outdone, famous cat-and-mouse duo Tom and Jerry performed their own rendition of “Largo al factotum” in MGM`s cartoon short The Cat Above and the Mouse Below (1964).
These classic cartoon appearances have inspired their own tributes and Rossini’s music continues to appear in subsequent media.
• 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire opens with Robin Williams singing “Largo al factotum” as a voice actor for an animated bird.
• The same year, the opera’s overture appears throughout the Seinfeld episode “The Barber” as a replacement for the show’s usual incidental music.
• A 2007 episode of The Simpsons, “The Homer of Seville” has Homer Simpson singing the role of Count Almaviva.
• The 2009 episode of Family Guy, ”Dog Gone” briefly features an opera singer singing Figaro’s aria.
• In 2015, the Royal Canadian Mint released a limited-edition silver coin in tribute to The Rabbit of Seville.
Rossini was unafraid to recycle himself – the overture from The Barber of Seville is in fact lifted from his own Aureliano in Palmira and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra. With an indelible influence on pop culture, Rossini’s Barber has certainly earned its title as a comic masterpiece that is sure to be a fan favourite well into the 21st Century.
There is still time to share the magic of Barber with your family and friends.
Season subscribers get 10% off additional single tickets.
Tickets start at $50. Prices go up January 31.
The Barber of Seville
Four performances only:
Feb 13, 15, 20, 23(M)
at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre