Like many American kids, my first exposure to opera came in grade school from watching Saturday morning cartoons: Bugs Bunny at the Opera, The Rabbit of Seville, Tom and Jerry’s “Figaro” episode, and, of course, good old Woody Woodpecker.
I grew up on a farm in a blue-collar working class family. My parents rarely took us out to dinner, let alone take the family to the opera. Such an expense was out of the question. So, realistically speaking, thank goodness for cartoons.
In this clip, Woody sings “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville, an opera bouffe (which I explained in yesterday’s post) in two acts by Gioacchini Antonio Rossini, first produced in Rome in 1816 and set in Spain. Like Don Giovanni and Carmen. Why were operas written in other languages set in Spain? I’d like to explore that topic in another post. Sometimes for political reasons. Want to take a pot shot at elected officials in your own country? Give them Spanish counterparts and have at it.
“Largo al factotum” is sung at the first entrance of the title character. According to Wikipedia, the repeated “Figaro”s before the final patter section are an icon in popular culture of operatic singing. The term “factotum” refers to a general servant and comes from the Latin where it literally means “do everything.”
The aria requires singing triplets in 6/8 meter almost constantly at a presto tempo, and is considered one of the most difficult baritone arias to perform. This, along with the tongue-twisting nature of some of the lines, insisting on Italian superlatives (always ending in ‘-issimo’), have made it a pièce de résistance in which a skilled baritone has the chance to highlight all of his qualities.
In view of the difficulty level of this aria, I’d say Woody Woodypecker does a fantastic job singing the Barber of Seville (though he doesn’t sound like much of a baritone).