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Arts & Culture

Rants and Raves: 'The Barber Of Seville'

The San Diego Opera's production of "The Barber of Seville."
San Diego Opera
The San Diego Opera's production of "The Barber of Seville."

Opera In Pop Culture

The Barber of Seville
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at classical music in pop culture.

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."

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.

"One of the great Super Bowl commercials this year was the Doritos commercial of the missing cat and the dog that hid him," says Nick Reveles, Director of Education and Outreach for San Diego Opera.

"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."

Reveles doesn't care how people get introduced to classical music: "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 with "The Rabbit of Seville."

"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.

Woody Woodpecker - The Barber of Seville (1944)

Reveles says, "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 note for note but just sped up."

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

"The characters have their roots in Italian Commedia dell'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," says Reveles.

Even if they have bunny ears.

"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," adds Reveles.

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 with Alfalfa trying his hand at Figaro.

So did Seinfeld in an episode about rival barbers.

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

Reveles states, "In this list of 97 films and cartoons where 'The Barber of Seville' has been used in one way or another the most unusual is number 29 it was used in 'Return of the Living Dead Part 5 Rave to the Grave.'"

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.

"I think even opera aficionados forget is that operatic comedy is hysterical," says Reveles.

You can discover the real "Barber of Seville" in its natural habitat as it closes out the San Diego Opera's 20-12 season with performance tonight and this weekend at the Civic Theater downtown.