(as Monty Python’s Flying Circus would say: And now for something completely different!)
During the “Bugs-Bunny Road Runner Movie,” Bugs describes “What’s Opera Doc?” as “the entire 18 hours of Richard Wagner’s Ring of Nibelung squashed down into seven minutes.” As funny as that sounds, it’s actually pretty close to the truth.
First, a bit of backstory: back in the mid-19th century, opera composer Richard Wagner composed a cycle of four operas that tell the story of the mythical Rhinegold (a magic lump of gold supposedly resting in the Rhine river) and how its theft puts a huge tragedy into motion. The gold is used to create a magic ring that would give the owner the power to rule the entire world.
At the same time, a golden helmet that can grant invisibility and great power is also created. The story could be boiled down to a conflict between the German gods (led by Wotan) and mortals (such as the demi-god Siegfried). Wotan, it should be noted, rules with a very large spear.
Now, back to “What’s Opera Doc?” as the cartoon opens, Elmer Fudd is presumably Siegfried, as he is on the hunt to “kill the wabbit!” (In the opera, Siegfried slays a great dragon). Once he meets Bugs Bunny, Elmer proclaims that he will kill the wabbit (I love saying that) with his “spear and magic helmet” (both elements playing a prominent role in the opera). After giving chase, Bugs stalls for a while by dressing as Brunnhilde, a Valkyrie in the opera, but here just a gorgeous girl who Elmer falls madly in love with (another nod to the opera, as Siegfried’s doomed love for Brunnhilde sets the stage for the final opera “The Twilight of the Gods.”)
Of course, inevitably, Elmer discovers he’s been tricked, and while Bugs flees for his life, a furious Elmer calls upon all the elements of the storm to track down and “KILL THE WABBIT!!!” He is apparently successful, and as usually happens, Elmer feels instant remorse that he really HAS killed Bugs and carries the bunny away to his great castle. But just before the story ends, Bugs pops up his head and addresses the audience with “Well what did you EXPECT in an opera, a HAPPY ending?” (This addresses the fact that many operas end in tragedy with some or all of the main characters dying).
Now interestingly, while the bulk of the story borrows from Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” of operas, the musical opening of the cartoon is actually taken from the overture to Wagner’s opera “The Flying Dutchman” and it’s pretty close to the original.
This has always been one of my favorite cartoons, and I think it’s partially responsible for getting me interested in classical music in the first place. Please watch and enjoy!
Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂