Pass the matches, Bwunnhilde

Pass the matches, Bwunnhilde


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2023

Message  from the Wagner Society of New York:

Professor Paul Goldmark of Case Western Reserve University will discuss the use of the music of Richard Wagner on the antics of Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, and Woody Woodpecker during the mid-20th century.

Prof. Goldmark, the Head of Popular Music Studies at Case Western Reserve University, will discuss the connection between some of the most well-known music of Richard Wagner and Hollywood cartoon art of the 1930s-1950s. His presentation will be profusely illustrated by clips of hilarious cartoons such as the classic What’s Opera, Doc? which is the source of the immortal lines, “Kill the wabbit” and “Oh Bwunhilde you’re so lovely.”

This event will be held on Friday, February 17, 2023, from 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM, at the National Opera Center, 330 Seventh Avenue (between West 28th and 29th Streets) in Manhattan, convenient to the #1 subway and the #7 or #20 Manhattan bus lines.

The event is a program of the Wagner Society of New York: Admission is free to members of the society and $25 to non-members, but advance registration is required. Register at:  Inquiries at


  • Greg Bottini says:

    “I killed the wabbit!”
    What’s Opera, Doc? could be the greatest of all the great Chuck Jones cartoons. They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.
    Bwavo, Chuck!

  • caranome says:

    This is far superior approach to expand the audience n reach the youngsters, underrepresented or not, than 99% of the dreg n woke manure that’s presented nowadays to do that. Every time I hear the Tannhauser overture, I hear the wabbit professing his love.

    • Carl says:

      Because it wouldn’t be a Slipped Disc comments thread without someone using the word “woke.”

      I hate to say it but youngsters today would be bored silly if presented with such old-fashioned animation and humor from their grandparents’ era.

  • M2N2K says:

    Another great line in What’s Up Doc is: “What did you expect in an opera – a ‘HAPPY’ ending?”.

  • Scott Messing says:

    A photo of Jones and his collaborator Michael Maltese shows him holding a record (London LL 800, issued four years before “What’s Opera, Doc?”) of Hans Knappertsbusch conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in works of Wagner, including “The Ride of the Valkyries.” In a 1971 conversation, he recalled that “What’s Opera, Doc?” was “probably the most difficult film I ever did,” condensing the Ring “into a six-minute picture, a chestnut stew” that had 104 cuts, “which is some kind of a record.”

  • Genius Repairman says:

    Back In the cartoon Golden age the animation units of the big movie studios had access to the studio orchestras and to all the music in their catalogue. That meant that MGM Tom and Jerry cartoons had snippets of great songs from their big musicals and Warner Bros had snippets of less great songs from their musicals
    A composer would score the cartoons using classical, jazz, popular songs and new music. Cart Stalling was the WB composer and his scores are legendary. He scored the great Chuck Jones shorts such as What’s Opera Doc? the Bunny of Seville and One Froggy Evening.

  • ChiLynne says:

    Oh, SO wish this were being streamed!

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    “Leopold….Leopold…..L-l-leopold” they all cooed in the cartoon lampooning Stokowski. Hilarious, and made at a time when the USA had a sense of humour.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    There’s more than one Mark Twain quote relevant here.

  • Joel Kemelhor says:

    There are notable animals in Wagner operas: Lohengrin and Parsifal have swans…Brunnhilde’s horse Grane… Siegfried’s bear and forest bird …Wotan’s ravens. However, I don’t recall that the Master musically portrayed any long-eared lagomorphs.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Some of these old cartoons, with or without classical music, are great fun, plain and simple.

    I’ve always wondered, however, whether they really contributed to the popularity of classical music, especially since one hears little more than famous tunes, rearranged and out of their musical context. Between my personal experience as a child and, for what it’s worth, my grown up intuition, I can more easily believe that only something like Fantasia or high quality movie soundtracks could have sparked people’s interests.

    But I’d love to hear other opinions.

    • Genius Repairman says:

      Petros Linardos I can say for certain that although I did not fully get into classical music until years later, I always noticed the music in these great cartoons and loved seeing Tom or Bugs conducting or playing a piano.

    • David Goodman says:

      I regularly watched cartoons throughout my teens, primarily to hear the music. I gradually discovered the original works and their composers as I was able to begin collecting records and attending concerts. I’ve often wondered how many others did the same. Perhaps not so many, but maybe more than some might imagine.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      My thesis is that the artists would not have made these cartoons if they didn’t think the audience was already familiar with the music, the themes at least. Parody doesn’t work if the object of the parody is unknown.

      Light classical music and opera were, if not supremely popular, at least a persistent presence on network radio in the 30s and 40s. Before that, vaudeville had its share of classical soloists and ensembles making the rounds performing for appreciative audiences.

      Jack Benny, as a teen, was one half of a non-ironic piano/violin duo playing salon pieces on that circuit.

      Since the end of the golden age, I think the cartoons repeated on television have helped to keep a few minor composers like von Suppe in the public memory, composers who have otherwise fallen from the repertoire.

      However, I think these cartoons are losing their punch among younger audiences who have zero background exposure to classical music. To them, it is just old-timey music being played.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Very convincing arguments.

        • Robert Holmén says:

          I’ll add on other reason classical themes got into cartoons… they were free! Out of copyright and free to re-use.

          The Warner cartoon unit had an unusual situation. Warner Brothers owned the rights to a huge catalog of recent popular songs and made those available to their film scorers. Synergy!

          But for the rest… Disney, MGM and numerous also-rans… classical themes were an economical get for films that had to be extremely budget-conscious.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    An addendum to my previous comment: it should be mentioned that one of the main people who made the Chuck Jones cartoons as wonderful as they are was the superb Mel Blanc.
    Mel was the voice of not only Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, but he also gave voice to Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, Tweetie Bird, Pepe le Pew, The Martian, and so many other great Warner Bros. cartoon characters both major and minor.
    He was also a semi-fixture on the Jack Benny television program.
    That’s all, folks!

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Mel Blanc also played Jack Benny’s violin teacher (Professor LeBlanc) and in particular I remember a violin lesson on the TV show where he sang along to the Etude No 2 of Kreutzer as Benny played {“?”} it, with actually pretty real violin teaching advice. He was a musician himself

      Speaking of classical music and cartoons there was a reasonable amount of it in the older Popeye cartoons, although nowhere as sly and sophisticated, if that is the right word, as in the Warner Bros cartoons. Did it create interest in the music? That is asking a bit much, although it may have created some of what we now call earworms. But if a person heard some classical music and was told that was what it was, they’d at least be in the position of saying “Hey — I KNOW that music.” Which cannot hurt. It wasn’t all a closed book.

  • MMcGrath says:

    Bwilliant. Would I lived in NY!

  • Evan says:

    I would rather listen to this than the last Ring cycle that it was misfortune to sit through – it was more like enduring Dante’s seventh circle of hell four times in a row.