Bugs Bunny with The Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom (September 3)
By Robert Rollin
The Cleveland Orchestra’s next-to-last Blossom Festival concert took place last Saturday evening under guest conductor George Daugherty and was attended by a huge audience. Daugherty, who made his Blossom debut in 1970, has guest conducted the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl among many other major orchestras at home and abroad. He has also been an Emmy-winning writer, director, and producer for television, film, opera, and ballet. The evening’s concert, entitled Bugs Bunny at the Symphony and originally compiled by Daugherty and his partner David Wong, has been a fixture with professional orchestras for twenty years and included many wonderful cartoons projected on the large screens peppered around Blossom Pavilion.
The show had a definite Warner Brothers emphasis with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd; Porky and Petunia Pig; the hapless Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, his nemesis; Tweety Bird and Sylvester, and the malodorous Pepe Le Pew, all leading the way to an amusing evening. Hanna-Barbera creations, Tom and Jerry, Scooby Doo, and the Flintstones were also featured.
The evening’s highlights were the cartoons that had specific musical connections. Most amusing of all was What’s Opera Doc?, a pastiche of Wagner themes from the four Ring operas, the Flying Dutchman, Rienzi and Tannhaüser with the score created by pianist/arranger Milt Franklyn. Elmer Fudd plays Siegfried and is the victim of Bugs’ wildly silly antics. Bugs, dressed as Brunhilde, climbs steps to a tower where he is rescued and rides a terribly plump horse as it flies through the air to the ground. The most memorable moment is when Elmer sings “Kill da Wabbit” to the tune of the Ride of the Valkyries. Here, as in all the cartoons where the live orchestra accompanied, Daugherty and all the orchestra musicians wore earphones providing a click-track to assist in staying exactly together with music and sound effects. The precision was breathtaking. Invented with the help of legendary composer/arranger Carl Stalling for Disney’s pioneering Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie (1928), this process of punching holes in the film to create the needed clicks on the beats remains the industry standard.
Johann Strauss Jr.’s waltzes provided grist for the marvelous two-part Corney Concerto. Elmer Fudd acts as emcee and conductor, and at one point literally pops his collar and loses his shirt. In part one he and his faithful dog hunt Bugs Bunny to the tune of Tales of the Vienna Woods. Then a charming variation on the Ugly Duckling story adds visual narrative to The Blue Danube, as the little black duck, after saving the mother swan and her three cygnets, joins the family.
Equally diverting was Rhapsody Rabbit, containing Bugs Bunny’s piano performance of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in Carl Stalling’s arrangement and with Milt Franklyn’s piano solo. Pianist Bugs and a tiny mouse compete to get audience attention, creating a memorable visual vignette. Baton Bunny employs Franz von Suppé’s Overture to Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna to present Bugs as the conductor.
Selections from Rossini’s Barber of Seville provided the impetus for Carl Stalling’s Largo al Factotum from Back Alley Oproar. Here Sylvester the cat constantly wakes up Elmer Fudd as he strives to fall asleep. In The Rabbit of Seville Milt Franklyn arranged the Barber of Seville Overture to accompany Elmer Fudd’s chasing Bugs Bunny into an opera house, where Bugs, to Elmer’s chagrin, assumes the barber’s persona. Generations of young children were introduced to this music by the cartoons. Similarly, many experienced The Dance of the Comedians from Smetena’s opera, The Bartered Bride, for the first time in Zoom and Bored, a Roadrunner cartoon scored by Stalling and Frankyn.
The Hanna-Barbera Studios, absorbed by Warner Brothers, provided more classical music source material. Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl uses Scott Bradly’s take on Johann Strauss Jr.’s overture to Die Fliedermaus to depict Tom and Jerry’s conducting competition. Scooby Doo’s Hall of the Mountain King employed Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt in a montage of Scooby’s scary exploits. Bedrock Ballet uses Jacques Offenbach’s Can-Can from Orpheus and the Underworld to accompany a Flintstones montage.
The orchestra played two other selections without cartoon accompaniment: Biedrich Smetana’s Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride and Franz von Suppé’s The Beautiful Galatea Overture. These started the first and second half respectively. While the performances were good, the preponderance of bass drum and cymbals seemed excessive.
This very enjoyable evening also included film composer Max Steiner’s short Warner Brothers Fanfare and several performances of the Merry Melodies Theme, the final version of which included Porky Pig’s famous “That’s All, Folks.” Daugherty himself provided the closing History of Warner Bros. Cartoons in Four-And-One–Half Minutes, a montage to the tune of Rossini’s William Tell Overture finale. The frenetic tempo suited this disjointed pastiche of the many characters. The concert was followed by a terrific fireworks display.
Robert Rollin is Professor of Composition at The Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University. He will teach a course in film scoring this fall.
Published on clevelandclassical.com September 6, 2011
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