Northern Lights brings Barber of Seville to Iron Range

The Mesabi East High School auditorium stage, now named for alumnus and Northern Lights Music Festival founder Veda Zupancich. (PHOTO: Dan Houg)

Each summer the Northern Lights Music Festival brings a fully staged classical opera to stages across Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. This summer, festival founder Veda Zupancic and her company bring Rossini’s Italian comic opera “The Barber of Seville.”

The festival also backs chamber orchestra, instrumental trios and kids programming across the region. Events kick off on the Fourth of July in Aurora. You can view the whole schedule at the Northern Lights Music Festival webpage.

I know it’s not very cosmopolitan of me to point this out, but “The Barber of Seville” is perhaps better known as the “Bugs Bunny Opera.” Many of the melodies from this opera found their way into classic Warner Brothers cartoons. As a kid, one of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons was the one directly based on the Barber of Seville, mostly because of the music.

Please, join me in revisiting the classic “Rabbit of Seville“:

This cartoon, along with many that used the William Tell overture, prompted me to buy a Gioachino Rossini’s Greatest Hits cassette tape as a kid. I played it often. Not only that, but this cartoon forever skewed my expectations of barber chairs, hair loss remedies, the arms race, and comic timing. I still crack up at the look on Bugs Bunny’s face when he applies the various tonics to Elmer Fudd’s scalp in sync with the music.

Screen shot from “The Rabbit of Seville” (1950, Warner Brothers)

You might also remember the iconic refrain of “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!” from this same Rossini show. That one shows up in many old cartoons, from Bugs Bunny to Tom and Jerry.

The use of classical music in these studio cartoons is something to behold. Classical music provides great value because the music is entirely in the public domain. At the time, Warner Brothers kept an orchestra on staff to provide music for all of its various movies and shows. So you could score hours of material with license-free music using an orchestra that you kept in a warehouse.

The unintended (and amazing) side effect was that generations of kids became exposed to great music through cartoons. Today’s cartoons come from studios that don’t keep an orchestra on staff, so we get keyboards and looped beats.

By the way, Gioachino Rossini knew what he was doing. Before his death in 1868 Rossini predicted that three pieces of his music would endure through the ages. Two of them ended up in Bugs Bunny cartoons almost a century later.

But I digress.

Northern Lights Music Festival performances of “The Barber of Seville” will be July 13, 15 and 16 in Aurora, Chisholm and Ely respectively. Tickets are $40, $15 for children under 18.

For more information, see the Northern Lights Music Festival webpage.

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