Some actual opera stars admit that their very first exposure to opera music was through Elmer Fudd’s pursuit of Bugs Bunny in “What’s Opera, Doc?”:
Like many other singers and crew staging the 17-hour, four-opera Wagner extravaganza at the Kennedy Center, Ms. Bishop got her first taste of opera from a cartoon rabbit and his speech-impaired nemesis.
“I could sing you the entire cartoon before I knew what opera really was,” says Ms. Bishop, who performs the part of Fricka, wife of Wotan, king of the gods.
The rabbit in question is Bugs Bunny, who, in the 1957 Warner Bros. cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” finds himself hunted by Elmer Fudd, in the part of the hero, Siegfried.
“Kiww the wabbit! Kiww the wabbit!” Elmer, in an ill-fitting magic helmet, sings to the urgent strains of Ride of the Valkyries as he jabs his spear into a rabbit hole.
Bugs flees, dons a breast plate and blond braids, climbs atop an obese white horse, and for two minutes and a ballet interlude, fools the smitten Elmer into thinking he is Brünnhilde.
“Oh, Bwünnhilde, you’re so wovewy,” Elmer croons.
“Yes, I know it,” Bugs answers coquettishly. “I can’t help it.”
“Those of us who didn’t freak at the sight of a rabbit in a winged helmet sliding off of the back of a fat horse — we went into opera,” says Ms. Bishop, 49, who grew up in Greenville, S.C.
It’s just one of those cases of art imitating art imitating art. Generations of people in the opera world grew up spending Saturday mornings eating breakfast cereal and watching Bugs Bunny on TV sets tuned with rabbit ears. For many, “What’s Opera, Doc?” was their first glimpse of opera and Wagner. Even if it didn’t exactly inspire their careers, it planted an ear worm that made the music recognizable once they heard the real thing.