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Saturday, August 23, 2014


The Ten Best Simpsons Classical/Opera Moments
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Scratchy (left) stalks Itchy in a scene from Roger Meyers' cartoon classic Scratchtasia.
Original image from The Simpsons episode Itchy and Scratchy Land © 1994 Fox/Gracie Films
I'm in the middle of two marathons right now. One is the 2014 Superconductor Metropolitan Opera Preview, our annual look at all the opera productions that the Met is mounting next season. As I'm writing, my efforts have been accompanied by The Simpsons Every Episode Marathon. So off the top of my head, here are the greatest "serious music" moments in the show's 552 episodes. Chronological order. (I had to look up the dates--my memory is good, it's not that good.)

An Evening at the Opera (from Bart The Genius, 1989)
The first regular episode of the show had Marge march her family off to the opera to a performance of Carmen. Bart sings along with the "Toreador Song" and Homer makes a joke about the fat lady singing. Still, it was opera.

Sherbert's Unfinished Symphony (from Bart the Daredevil, 1990)
Lisa's music recital in this episode featured performances of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony (the 8th) with a string section that refuses to "stay together" and a soulful sax solo from Lisa replacing the 'cello part in the first movement. Followed by a performance of the 1812 Overture...with real cannons!

High Concept (from Mr. Plow, 1992)
With his snowplow business losing customers thanks to competition from Barney "The Plow King" Gumble, Homer hires McMahon and Tate to make an expensive high-concept black and white commercial (think the ads for Calvin Klein's Obsession) for his business. The commercial makes no sense but it is set to "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

"Such a Beautiful Voice" (from Cape Feare, 1993)
Kelsey Grammar has played Bart's second mortal enemy Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons for 25 years. In this spoof of Cape Fear, Bart gambles with his life and plays for time by having the homicidal Bob sing the "entire score" of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. The mini-production includes costumes, backdrops and even a freshly published Playbill® for Bart.

The Bear In the Little Car (from Marge on the Lam 1993)
I don't write about ballet, but I have great affection for this scene where Homer equates the terpsichorean act to a circus bear driving a small electric car in the ring. Later in the episode he tells Lenny he's going to the ballet. Lenny's response: "Oh, gonna go see the bear in the little car, areya?" See, it's not just Homer.

Scratchtasia (from Itchy and Scratchy Land, 1994)
The Simpsons visit the "violentest place on Earth", a theme park based on hyperviolent cartoon characters Itchy and Scratchy. While there, Bart and Lisa view clips from Scratchtasia, with a version of Disney's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" involving a wizard cat, a marching mouse, and an axe. Simply brutal.

The Musical Fruit (from Margical History Tour, 2004)
Bart Simpson as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Lisa as a jealous Antonio Salieri in this version of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. Contains a methane-powered version of The Magic Flute set to the first movement of Eine kleine nachtmusik. Everybody sing: "Beans! O Beans! The Mu-usi-cal Fruit!"

The Springfield Concert Hall (from The Seven-Beer Snitch, 2005)
The city of Springfield pours money and concrete into a new Frank Gehry-designed concert hall (its twisted shape achieved by using minature wrecking balls on an otherwise conventional model). On opening night, the Springfield Philharmonic plays the first bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony ("Dah-dah-dah-DUMMM"). The audience walks out immediately having heard what they came to hear. The concert hall becomes a privatized prison. Who says The Simpsons aren't prescient?

Call Him P. Dingo (from The Homer of Seville, 2005)
Whoo-Hoo!--a completely opera-driven episode!  Homer discovers he has a formidable baritone instrument if he sings while lying on his back. Plácido Domingo himself is the guest star, and displays a hitherto-unknown affinity for towel-snapping his fellow artists backstage.

Vendetta! Vendetta! (from The Italian Bob, 2007)
After trips to Australia, Brazil, and Canada, the Simpsons venture to Italy. Once more, they encounter music-loving nemesis Sideshow Bob, who has married a beautiful woman and had an equally psychotic son. Their plan: to stop at all costs a Rome production of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci starring Bob's old nemesis, the gravel-voiced Krusty the Klown.

And lastly as a bonus, this. 
(from the short-lived magazine Simpsons Illustrated. 1992)

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.