Everything I needed to know about classical music I learned from Bugs Bunny. The economic orchestrations of those classic Warner Bros. cartoons distilled the classical repertoire so brilliantly into bite-sized versions, from Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, that by the time I was exposed to those pieces in the concert hall, they were already fondly familiar to me, having been imprinted on my DNA by countless repeat viewings on Saturday mornings. Best, of course, was “What’s Opera, Doc,” which condensed the vastness of Wagner down to seven concise minutes, all to accompany a mythic Bugs-and-Elmer epic, lavishly illustrated, featuring an outrageous drag-romance interlude and a tragic-yet-hilarious twist ending.
This 1957 short, often called the greatest cartoon ever made, celebrates its 50th anniversary this week. The Toronto Star pays tribute here with a making-of backstory and a link to the full cartoon itself, posted on YouTube and embedded below. Watch, enjoy, and see if you can ever hear Wagner’s majestic “Ride of the Valkyries” again without thinking, “Kill da wab-bit, kill da wab-bit…”