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I'll Give You Something to Talk About: Opera

What does Bugs Bunny, Luke Skywalker, Julia Roberts, Harry Potter and two dead composers from 206 years ago all have in common? Opera!

Opera was created to pay homage to the Greek’s gift of storytelling. It only made sense the Florentine Camerata used this idea to encompass music, dance, singing, acting, and brilliant costumes. The Florentine Camerata was a group of musicians, poets, and more who discussed all forms of art.Their ambitions werebrought together on the grand operatic stage.Have you ever seen an opera hall? The architecture alone is an inspiration of itself. Despite its nobel origins, the first few operas didn't quite make the cut.

By Rahny Day

It's a pleasure to meet you!

Fenice means "phoenix." Oddly enough, its had two great fires. So it has lived up to its name by rising from the ashes. Verdi's operas Rigoletto and La Traviata debuted here in 1851 and 1853. We'll speak more on his greatness later!

Hear how the Greeks have influenced the arts and music.

Read about the Florentine Camerata!

Learn more about the history of opera.Read this article from the San Franciso Opera Association.

Cello! Let me introduce myself!www.rahnyday.com


Bye, Felicia!

As Drake said, "Started from the bottom now we here." Opera did not have the best start. The opera Euridice debuted in 1600 at the royal wedding of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici. Taking from Greek mythology, Orpheus traveled to the gates of hell and charmed them with his music as he pleaded with them to return his wife. I know, tear! Well, the crowd wasn't buying it, but you never know who's out there in the audience.The Duke of Mantua was attending and told his court composer Claudio Monteverdi of this art form. He was an immense supporter of art and made his court into a cultural hub. Even Galileo stopped by for a job, but sadly, a deal couldn't be struck.No worries though, Monteverdi is now considered the grandfather of modern opera and the most influential force for transitioning the Renaissance to the Baroque period and onto the bright lights of Hollywood.

Read more on EuridiceEuridice Synopsis

Monteverdi biography

Music of MantuaVincenzo Gonzaga I Duke of Mantua

Euridice SynopsisRead more on Euridice


Romantic Period

The Romantic period focused on intense drama and passion-infused storylines over the rigid structures of the Classical period. Emotional, intricate expressions and longer harmonic phrases were widespread. Nationalism was becoming a recurring element for many composers, especially Verdi.

To understand how composers like Verdi and Wagner shaped and inspired modern entertainment, we first need to brush up on some essential music elements.

He was a bit of a rebel. So much so that the Imperial Police visited him. To this, Verdi refused to change his works and continued making a series of operas entrenched with nationalism. Despite this clash, he was still highly revered as illustrated by the quote above.

“I will not be the man to clip the wings of so promising a genius.” - Imperial Chief of Police

Read more on Romantic Era

Verdi's Nationalism

This compositional technique brought opera to a new level. Although Wagner was not the creator, he expanded on its potential. It worked in conjunction with his idea of "gesamtkunstwerk" loosely translated to "total artwork."Every component of art works in harmony to create the full composition. The best of the best film composers give all the credit to Wagner for making this a quintessential element for composers.

A leitmotif gives the characters a voice. Think of it as an emotional guide for the audience. It can replace or accompany the dialogue. A single line can encapture sadness, passion, fury, uncertainty, and more.

The motif can transform to fit specific moods of the character while still maintaining its primary form, much like Luke Skywalker's motif throughout Star Wars. It foreshadows his great destiny before he's even heard of the Force. Nevertheless, this melodic gesture is worth a thousand words. Don't believe me? Just ask Mickey Mouse.


Musical Elements

The music changes and slowly reveals the iconic motif that functions to foreshadow his greatness ahead. Gotta love the flowing sound of the French horn.

Read away!"How Do Leitmotifs Work in Movies?"

Read " Underscoring Richard Wagner's influence on film-music"


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I know! It just keeps getting better and better. This beloved term, "mickey-mousing" refers to matching physical movement to the music as first introduced in 1928 by way of "Steamboat Willie." It is a classic element of all cartoons and works in conjunction with the function of the leitmotif.

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Read about Film & Media: "Mickey-Mousing"

IDARE you...not to smile!

Watch and listen to more examples of Mickey-Mousing in animation and modern movies.

60-second guide to Mickey-Mousing

Rise of Nationalism


There's much to say about the musical genius of Verdi and Wagner. They clashed at times professionally and personally even though they never actually met. Similarities are drawn on the effect and influence the European rebellions of 1848 had on their writing. Hence the hints of nationalism in their later compositions. There is no doubt they influenced one another as evident in their body of work. Some of the tension arose on behalf of this. The Italian Grand Opera focuses on showcasing a singer's vocalize. The "bel canto" or "beautiful singing" was a term coined and inspired by this style.

Wagner stayed fast to his "gesamtkunstwerk" translated to "all-embracing art form." In other words, it is fusing all art forms to create a complete work because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Wagner felt opera was steering away from its original inspiration of Greek storytelling, and Grand Opera was a disgrace to this idea. a

Speaking of Wagner's personal opinions, he was known to be quite arrogant and felt his contemporaries should take on his artistic ideals.Verdi was a much gentler soul in comparison. Although when broached by the subject of Wagner, he was not afraid to spill the tea. In the spirit of true sportsmanship, Verdi had praised Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Hesaid, "one of the greatest creations of the human spirit," and he "stood in wonder and terror" of it.Little did Verdi know, his La Traviata would be highly revered today. It is one of the most staged operas to date, and its storyline turned into box office hits!

Verdi's RevoltHere is a simple overview of nationalism.

They are complete opposites, but both share the same love for music. (read more)

Other influencing factors of 19th-century nationalism of the Romantic period

A briefhistory of bel canto.0Advanced issues found▲Arguably one of the greatest operatic tenors of all time, Pavarotti. He once said, " Singing is just controlled yelling." He did it well!

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“ A subject for our own age.”

.-Verdi on La Traviata

Verdi was a master at capturing the intricacies of human nature and wantedLa Traviatato take place in his modern time of 1835. Those running the famous Teatro de Fenice forbade it, so Verdi changed it to the 1700s. Verdi was akin to other rebellious acts such as with his opera Rigoletto.

Channeling his inner gossip girl, his staging of the opera made striking parallels to the present aristocratic circles leaving his share of raised eyebrows during its premiere.

Read more on Gran Teatro la Fenice

La Traviata background0Advanced issues found▲Angel Blue was the first African-American to debut as Violetta at La Scala in Italy. She has been likened to Leontyne Price by opera great Placido Domingo.

Read more on Rigoletto.

Read more on this iconic opera.

Modern Adaptations

La Traviata

The festivities include magic, musuems, street shows, digital art, cinema, opera, and free admission to some of the best concert halls in the nation!These organizations strive to unitepartrons and the average joy in experiencing the lasting influences of the Arts.

Since 1835, Violetta's small-town boy living in a lonely world, Alfredo, has been reimagined into a wealthy playboy and penniless sitar player by the likes of Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor. Both swept off their feets by their untraditional rebellious loves.

La Traviata loosely translates as "to be lead astray." The storylines of Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge are taken directly from this opera. La Traviata speaks of forbidden love in the underground world and seductive culture of the Moulin Rouge in Paris.The main character, Violetta, is a courtesan. She is torn between her affections for Alfredo, her professional demands and her mortal fate to tuberculosis which she does not tell Alfredo about.Despite the schemes of a few haters, they do end up uniting together, but alas, in the last act she dies in Alfredo's arms.

Read on to see who will win this battle!

See the story unfold.

2009 production of La Traviata, Royal Opera House, London, England

Enter the Moulin Rouge!

To bring things full circle, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts attend La Traviata in the movie. Vivian worries she won't understand Italian, but Edward assures she'll know because the music is so powerful."Sempre Libera" is the famous aria sung by Violetta. In this aria, she's just thrown this lavish party. In her solitude, she entertains the idea of a life with Alfredo. Think of this as Violetta's anthem.She sings, "I must always be free as the dawn breaks and dies for my spirit to soar." She scoffs at the triviality of love. Outside her window, Alfredo sings how beautiful love is even in joy and sadness on his way home.

Renee Fleming sings "Sempre Libera" at the Royal Opera House


La Traviata

Modern Adaptations

Vivienne and Edward are attending La Traviata. Notice the tears in her eyes. This scene does not show the full opera, but rather clips and highlights from it. Although, the first few minutes are of "La Sempre Libera".

The incomparable Renee Fleming sings "Sempre Libera" at the Royal Opera House.

Chuck Jones

Chuck Jones is no stranger to using classical music in his creations. He's incorporated Wagner for "What's Opera Doc?", Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia to transforms Bugs into "Rabbit of Seville," and used various composers for "Long-Haired Hare," and "Baton Bunny." Longhairs usually make light of those who like classical music. Let's take a look at his most revered short, "What's Opera Doc?"

See how "What's Opera Doc?" came to be!

This short uses Rossini's Overture from the opera Il Barbiere de Siviglia.I promise you've heard this before.After you're done with Bugs, take a listen to the real overture.Gioachino Rossini's overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Sly Mr. Jones used a play on words for this title. Longhairs refer to someone fond of classical music, much like himself. This short spoofs famous conductors and also music from Rossini's operaIl Barbiere di Siviglia.

Chuck uses the music of Austrian composer Franz von Suppé in this silly short. He was another great musician from the Romantic period and well-known for his operettas. The modern-day musical was born from this operatic form.

What's Opera Doc?

It ain't over till the fat lady sings! This cliche phrase is referencing the character Brünnhilde from Wagner's opera Die Walküre. Bugs pulls off the iconic wardrobe with his metal-plated chest, long braids, and regal helmet with horns protruding.Jones incorporates brilliant recitative with Elmer Fudd's iconic line, "Kill the wabbit. Kill the wabbit!" to the leitmotif of "Ride of the Valkyries" which signifies victory. An opera is entirely sung, so the recitative functions to mimic speech.The crashing thunder, lightning, and powers of the gods Elmer uses, is taken directly from the opening scenes of the opera. This scene also uses leitmotifs from his Der Fliegende Holländer. Elmer even wears the magical Tranhelm helmet from Die Walküre. The wearer can turn into any form they desire!

Watch this behind the scenes look at the making of this legendary short!

King Ludwig gave this horse, Cocotte, to her to use in the opera. You can see how Jones took a more comedic turn with his depiction.0Advanced issues found▲ Amalie Materna, The Original Brünnhilde 1876

Elmer plays Siegfried Fudd. Siegfried is the hero in the opera, but Jones takes creative liberty with his interpretation given he ends up smiting Bugs in the end.

Where is the wabbit? Siegfried Fudd is overlooking the entire forest for Bugs.

Jones was a perfectionist. He sketched ballet dancers at the Warner Bros. studio to make Bugs and Elmer's duet as life-like as possible.

Brünnhilde was cursed to lie sleeping within a ring of fire atop a mountain until awoken. In the opera, Siegfried wakes her, and they fall in love.

Act III finds these fierce warriors as they bring fallen soldiers back to Valhalla. Hear their powerful war cries!

What's Opera Doc?

In true opera fashion, death closes out the final scene, but not before Bugs has the final say.

He then returns to his lifeless state as Elmer carries him through the arches of the Venusberg as hilariously referenced from Wagner's opera Tannhäuser.

"Well, what did you expect in an opera?A happy ending?"

Here it is folks! "What's Opera Doc?"

It wouldn't be a true Bugs feature if he didn't get in the last word. He comes back to life to address the audience one last time.

As mentioned, this parody is a nod to various Wagner operas. This last scene depicts the Venusberg from the opera Tannhäuser, the Kingdom of Venus. She is the goddess of beauty, love, and desire who Tannhäuser falls prey to.

Siegfried Fudd is remorseful after finally capturing Bugs. Jones references parts of the death scene in Tannhäuser.

Max Steiner

"If Wagner were alive today, he would be the number one film composer."

- Max Steiner

Listen to Mr. Steiner speak about doing what he was told could not be done. ( Part I )

Read Wagner and film-scoring.

Max Steiner

With 300 film scores under his belt and the first Golden Globe for Best Original Score, Max Steiner has left behind quite the legacy.Given his background, it was inevitable his exposure to operatic influences. Although he was Austrian born, Germany was right next door, so Steiner was no stranger to German operettas and Wagner's influence.He conducted his first operetta at 15 years old. The operetta is the precursor to modern-day musicals with its emphasis on satire, acting, and more spoken dialogue. The operettaDie Fledermaus was famous in his time of which he most likely drew influence.

It puts The Parent Trap to shame with its ridiculous schemes, the farce of wit, grand disguises and mistaken identities. It's also known as The Drunken Bat given one of the leading characters exports stumbling home in a bat costume and expiring for the night in the local park. I know! It sounds like a scene taken from The Hangover.

Grandfather of Film-Scoring

Max Steiner Biography

Read more on operettas

Read this crazy synopsis here!

From bats to freakishly large primates, his King Kong score presents motifs for each character. You could go through this masterpiece cue by cue using them. He beautifully executed this Wagnerian legacy by painting the complexity of emotions long felt by Kong in his treacherous journey and his exploration of the warmth and cruelty of humanity. For example, the scene where he has kidnapped the heroine.The music takes on a lighter, more flowing line when focused on her. Also, notice how it seamlessly blends with Kong's motif off and on in the scene. He examines her lifeless body, smells pieces of her clothing, and studies her different facial expressions. The music navigates through his emotions at this moment.

King Kong

Max Steiner

Listen to how the music changes as Kong examines Ann Darrow. It blends seamlessly between their two distinctive motifs.

King Kong leitmotifs

John Williams

"... music that would put us in touch with very familiar and remembered emotions, which for me as a musician translated into the use of a nineteenth-century operatic idiom, if you like, Wagner and this sort of thing."

Be transported into the Force with these sound bites.

His legacy continues to unfold and inspire.

Yes, I'm talking about the epic Star Wars. John Williams drew from Wagner's leitmotif as well as other classical composers for his impressive body of work. Those intoxicating triplets "ba ba ba bummm bah" foreshadow grand heroic gestures yet to unfold in this space opera. Take a minute to think about what these motifs say about the characters. What are they feeling? What are they about to do next? George Lucas desired a grand orchestral experience. It's common to find many filmmakers longing for that signature Wagnerian sound.

John Williams

Wagner's Influence

Look at Star Wars leitmotifs.

John Williams Biography

Take a look at the various classical composers that influenced this score.

Let's put it in context. This short clip shows how leitmotifs can be adapted..

Legendary Motifs

Let's soar over the moon to another extraterrestrial experience with the beloved E.T. This leitmotif encaptures the wonderment of childhood.Not a fan of space? Well, let's visit Jurassic Park or the deep blue sea where we find Jaws. You know it! "Da da da da da! " The simple two-note, minor second, used to build the suspense of this Great White has haunted many a kid's dreams.

John Williams

The festivities include magic, musuems, street shows, digital art, cinema, opera, and free admission to some of the best concert halls in the nation!These organizations strive to unitepartrons and the average joy in experiencing the lasting influences of the Arts.

If you have time, you can always stop by Hogwarts to visit Harry Potter and get lost in "Hedwig's Theme." That's only scratching the surface of his 20 billion-dollar empire. May the Force be with you, Mr. Williams!

Read more on " Hedwig" leitmotif

Listen to how the music keeps building until finally the full motif is unveiled as they fly across the moon!

Although John Williams didn't compose all the music for this series, his "Hedwig's Theme" is found in all movies and encaptures the spirit of this magical epic.

Take a look at his magnificent works!

Get out of the water! See the Jaws leitmotif in action.

Read more on E.T. leitmotif

See how John Wiliams created this score to take Jurassic Park to new heights.

Read more on Jaws leitmotif

Read more on Jurassic Park motifs.

Bernard Hermann

Erich Korngold

Howard Shore


Robin Hood

The Lord of the Rings

Sadly there is not enough time to speak on every great composer. Nevertheless, here are a few other award-winning composers who carry on the influential musical legacy of opera with their memorable leitmotifs.

Notable Composers

BiographyAnalysis of Psycho MotifsThe infamous "Shower Scene" EEK EEK EEK

BiographyRobin Hood: Transforming LeitmotifRobin Hood: Motif Analysis

See how Shore's music elevates this storyline. The Lord of the Rings and Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen both take from Nordic mythology. Both deal with a cursed ring, and the consequences of being consumed by its power. BiographyAward-Winning "Into the West" Return of the King

Before I close my laptop and binge on Netflix, I want to revisit John Williams's quote on his inspiration for his score to Star Wars.

"... music that would put us in touch with very familiar and remembered emotions, which for me as a musician translated into the use of a nineteenth-century operatic idiom, if you like, Wagner and this sort of thing."

But what I do know is that it's all about context and relevance. Context influences how we view the world around us. Taking the traditional and reinventing opera’s storytelling is the key.All paths to learning and communication should merge passion, authenticity and collaboration in a way that invites others into the conversation. I'm so glad you've accepted mine.So I now decree you an official longhair alongside the visionary artists we’ve experienced today. That’s all folks!

Take a moment to think about the examples discussed so far. Don't these creations all have a way of putting us in a sentimental mood?Opera creates magic on stage. As an opera singer and educator, I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. Sadly I'm aware of the disconnect of classical music and opera within pop-culture.

Jessye Norman is one of the most prominent and influential African-American operatic sopranos. With her School of Art and philanthropy, she continues to champion for the arts. "In this modern society, art may be the only force that invites expression from the inside out. Where the pure light of the wisdom of the soul is realized." - Jessye Norman

Renee Fleming's 39- year operatic career has found her as Creative Consultant for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She believes opera is an extraordinary combination of art that would captivate all audiences. To do this, it must continue its evolution to stay relevant.