I couldn’t recall my first exposure to classical music as a child until I attended Warner Bros. Discovery presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and I finally made the connection that the music had always been there.
Warner Bros. cartoons were always backed by classical music. Not only with original pieces, but they contained some incredible works by classical composers such as Johann Strauss II, Gioachino Rossini, and Richard Wagner. Even if you don‘t recognise these names, you‘d recognise their music.
Having spent my childhood watching cartoons while huddled around the TV on a weekend, I was super excited to relive some of those memories with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. With the show celebrating 30 years of concerts, Conductor George Daugherty lead the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra through some incredible classical pieces.
Opening with the unmistakeable ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ by Richard Wagner, I was hooked. I found myself picturing Bugs Bunny flying around in an old fighter plane chasing Elmer Fudd around a field. There were no visuals at this point, so I just made up my own!
It wasn’t long before we were treated to the iconic Warner Bros. fanfare and the epic Looney Tunes theme. On the giant screen behind the orchestra played the animation shorts. We were treated to ‘Baton Bunny’, the one where Bugs Bunny is a conductor. A perfect pairing for the concert event. Even conductor George Daugherty got in on the action, mimicking some of Bugs’ hilarious conductor poses. With the score based on the Overture to ‘Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna’ by Franz von Suppé, this piece is both visually hilarious and audibly stunning.
There was plenty to love from Act I. From ‘A Corny Concerto’ and ‘Long-Haired Hare’ to the classic singing frog in ‘One Froggy Evening’ and a brand-new animation titled ‘Wet Cement’. But the one that stood out to me was ‘The Rabbit of Seville’ based on the Overture to ‘The Barber of Seville’ by Gioachino Rossini. It also ends with Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. This cartoon alone is a clear indication on the clever use of classical music, then when paired with the actions unfolding in the animation, make for a very smart and hilarious cartoon.
Halfway through the evening’s performance, Conductor George Daugherty gave the captivated Hamer Hall audience a bit of a history lesson. Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, Warner Bros. Studios would show a unique animated shorts before every feature film. No less than 1,150 animations were created and each of them required a score. The studio handed the responsibility to composer Carl Stalling and provided him with a full orchestra. Competitors only had a studio orchestra consisting of only a few musicians. With the full orchestra at his disposal, Stalling was able to create some iconic and memorable themes and pull off some incredible orchestral scores with ease.
One such score is the epic Opera ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ by Wagner. Commonly referred to as ‘Ring Cycle’, the Opera is a combination of works that are performed over the period of about 15 hours. Yes, you heard that right! 15 hours of operatic score! However, Richard Wagner’s work has been cleverly compressed into a punchy 6-minute piece within the cartoon ‘What’s Opera, Doc?’. Not only did Act II consist of the amazing aforementioned number, but we were also treated to another talented conductor, James Fellenbaum.
Before I knew it, the incredible two-hour performance was coming to an end. I was having the best time watching these iconic cartoons on the screen, exquisitely accompanied by a live symphony. It was also great to hear so many young kids around me chuckling to the cartoons. Some of which were experiencing classical music live for the very first time which I found endearing. I mean, what a great way to introduce your child to the arts! And it wasn’t just the kids that were laughing at the animations, everyone was! The concept was such a delightful atmosphere that I relished being a part of.
Whether you’re a fan of the cartoons, or a fan of classical music, or both, there is something to enjoy for everyone at this concert. It was fun, nostalgic, and educational. It also had me low key looking up about Wagner’s 15-hour opera on my phone during intermission. And whilst I wish that there was more to see and hear, I can only hear the theme song so much. I cannot even begin to think what it must be like for the MSO to play that same tune over and over. They’re probably experts at the Looney Tunes theme by now and don’t even need the sheet music for it anymore!
This concert highlights the importance of music not only with animation, but in film. I loved it and was delighted by both old and new animation shorts of the Looney Tunes. I have always loved Bugs Bunny and his friends, and this was such a wonderful experience. For big fans, if you want to have memento of the experience, in the Stalls foyer there’s also a themed photobooth to take photos that you can upload to your socials. In the Dress Circle foyer, you can meet Bugs Bunny himself and take photos with him before the show and during interval. I found this the perfect bonus for attending this wonderful concert. Bugs is very cheeky in person too!
Australia is the first stop of a much larger international tour for Bugs Bunny at the Symphony. There is even a show planned in Rome on the exact same stage where ‘The Barber of Saville’ was first performed. Whilst it would have been cool to travel all the way to Rome to experience the concert there, you don’t have to travel as far. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has two more concerts! But you must book now!
I loved Bugs Bunny at the Symphony and my favourite part was realising that I’ve had classical music with me all my life. Thank-you, Bugs Bunny and the MSO.
Bugs Bunny at the Symphony with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has two more concerts on Friday the 28th of April at 7.30pm and Saturday the 29th of April at 1pm, both are at Art Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall.
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