(Source: Hector Casanova / MCT)
(Source: Hector Casanova / MCT)

In 1990, Julia Roberts starred in what some people described as a modern Cinderella.

While there were some similarities between “Pretty Woman” and the fairy-tale princess, the storyline of the movie more closely resembled a different classic tale. Alexandre Dumas wrote the tale of a courtesan who falls in love with a wealthy man in his novel “La dame aux Camélias” which was later brought to the opera Stage as “La Traviata” by Giuseppe Verdi.

Many people feel that opera is inaccessible. Not only are they completely sung, the stories are ridiculous and everybody dies.

While this is true in some cases, in comedic operas rarely anyone dies, operas might be more familiar to audiences than they think.

I grew up on Bugs Bunny being chased by Elmer Fudd in the episode “What’s Opera Doc.” Here Themes from Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle (Die Walküre and the horn call from Siegfried), The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser and Rienzi.

If you are a fan of this you are in good company. “What’s Opera Doc” was such a cultural success that it was the first cartoon to be included in the Library of Congress.

That’s not where the music ends. Recently I watched a commercial that featured a man who discovers he is living with a roach when he hears music and scratching coming from the other side of the shower curtain. He pulls the curtain back to reveal a giant anthropomorphic roach using his toothbrush to clean himself. While the man uses bug spray to rid himself of the roach, one of the most well known opera duets, “The Flower” from the opera “Lakmé” plays in the background.

Other references to operas include moments in the thriller “Fatal Attraction,” comedies like “Foul Play” and even the science fiction film “The Fifth Element.”

My favorite Opera reference might not help you with the plot but it happens in one of my favorites, and in my opinion one of the greatest movies of all time, “The Shawshank Redemption.”

In a key scene, Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, takes over the Shawshank Prison loudspeaker system and playing a vinyl recording of The Letter Duet, from “Nozze di Figaro” by Mozart.

The narration of Morgan Freeman, who plays Ellis “Red” Redding, in the film, soothingly states, “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

You don’t have to understand every word of a song to appreciate it. We often don’t understand the music we hear that’s popular today. We can appreciate it for what it is. It helps to look at information in beforehand, the program you get as you walk into an opera house will give you much of that information.  Pick something and try it.  You might be glad you did.

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