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The Barber of Seville

April 24, 2012 9:42 a.m.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at classical music in pop culture.

Related Story: Rants and Raves: 'The Barber Of Seville'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Sometimes classical music gets a bad rap as being stuffy or elitist. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says classical music may permeate our pop culture a lot more than you think and looks specifically to Rossini's opera "The Barber of Seville."

CLIP Rossini's Overture for Barber of Seville with someone humming along.

You know that music that's stuck in your head, those notes you've heard but can't quite place? That could very well be a piece of classical music. In fact, you probably know more classical music than you think. If you watched the Super Bowl, for instance, you were exposed to Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, and Rossini during the commercial breaks.

CLIP Doritos commercial

NICK REVELES: One of the great Super Bowl commercials this year was the Doritos commercial of the missing cat and the dog that hid him.

Nick Reveles is the Director of Education and Outreach for San Diego Opera.

NICK REVELES: It's absolutely brilliant. It brings a certain classical seriousness to the scene where you've got this dog who's killed the cat and buried him and he's bribing his owner with a bag of Doritos.

CLIP Honey have you seen our cat?

Reveles doesn't care how people get introduced to classical music.

NICK REVELES: It doesn't matter if it's a cartoon or a record or something your mom played on the piano when you were a kid -- it was a introduction to music and for whatever reason you loved it.

Looney Toons provided Reveles with one of his earliest exposures to classical music.

CLIP Bunny of Seville

NICK REVELES I certainly didn't know it was from an opera. But I recognized it. And that stimulated my imagination to look further and tweak my ears to be attentive to the use of classical music in other cartoons.

Like Woody Woodpecker.

CLIP Woody Woodpecker's famous cackle

NICK REVELES: Woody Woodpecker is actually my favorite he sings almost the entirety of Figaro's aria in his Woody Woodpecker cartoon and it's obviously some great recording of a baritone actually singing the aria not for note but just sped up.

CLIP Woody Woodpecker sings fast

The thing that keeps the Barber of Seville so animated is its characters, says Reveles.

NICK REVELES: The characters have their roots in Italian commedia del arte which itself has roots in ancient Greek and Roman characters that were onstage for centuries for eons and they are filled with human characteristics and foibles and weakness and strengths, we recognize those characters.

Even if they have bunny ears.

CLIP Bunny of Seville

NICK REVELES: Well Bugs is a strong character too. Bugs has got all those human foibles but he's a bunny so we can laugh at him.

Because Rossini's music plays up the comedy brilliantly. Maybe that's why it's been used in nearly a hundred movies, cartoons, and TV shows according to Reveles research on the Internet Movie Database. The Little Rascals put it to use...

CLIP Little Rascals....

So did Seinfeld in an episode about rival barbers...

CLIP Seinfeld...

And The Simpsons transformed it into The Homer of Seville...

CLIP The Simpsons.

NICK REVELES: The most unusual is Number 29 it was used in "Return of the Living Dead Part 5 Rave To The Grave."

CLIP Return of the Living Dead

But it's all good because no matter what you do to Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," it still works and it's funny.

NICK REVELES: I think even opera aficionados forget is that operatic comedy is hysterical.

You can discover the real "Barber of Seville" in its natural habitat as it closes out the San Diego Opera's 20-12 season this weekend.

For KPBS News, I'm Beth Accomando.

TAG: "The Barber of Seville" has two more performances at the San Diego Opera this Friday and Sunday at the Civic Theater. You can see video of the cartoons Beth mentioned on her Cinema Junkie blog at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G.