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Strange uses of opera in movies and TV

You’re enjoying your favorite television show when a dreaded commercial break hits. The ad shows pasta twirling alluringly around a fork in an elegant, candle-lit Italian restaurant. There are roses on the table. It’s the height of romance. Opera is playing softly in the background… what is that aria? You listen more closely. Sure enough, it’s “La donna è mobile.” A catchy ditty about how terrible women are — how perfect for setting a romantic atmosphere! (At least it’s Italian. My question on Twitter provoked responses about people using Carmen to sell Italian restaurants and food products.)

The specific commercial that offended me in the above scenario seems to have been lost to posterity, but here’s a round-up of commercials and movie scenes where the use of opera just doesn’t seem right. Feel free to contribute your (least) favorites in the comments!

What is “Casta diva” doing in the car commercial, with a bunch of engine revving noises over it? It’s both out of place and just plain rude.

Re-writing the lyrics of “Nessun dorma” is a bit eyeroll-inducing, but you can get away with it if you do it well. Carlton Draught doesn’t. Why the slow motion theme in the first place? And where’s the sense of drama that the music conveys? This seems like it wasn’t thought through.

There’s no clip for this, but the villain in Kate & Leopold invites Kate to La BohèmeHe gets details of the opera wrong, because he’s a pompous jerk. The hero Leopold corrects him, which turns out to be an even bigger problem, because Leopold is supposed to be a time traveller from 1876. (That’s twenty years before the opera’s premiere.) No one seems to have fact-checked the movie, because Leopold also discusses The Pirates of Penzance, which had its premiere in 1879. Oops. It’s fine for characters to use opera to show off — but it should probably be opera there’s some chance they have actually seen.

What’s worse than using Carmen to see a faucet? Remixing it so that every few seconds, you get an annoying, pulsing beat instead. I have no clue what’s going on here, but whatever it is, it’s not good. (Credit for finding this one goes to @ThatSopranoChic.)

Opera is so boring! Ha, ha. Oh, and high notes can break glass. Bud Light’s inane opera commercial reinforces multiple bad stereotypes about opera at once. I can’t tell whether the singer is supposed to be singing a specific real piece from the repertoire, though, or whether it’s just generically operatic-sounding stuff.

I think of the Habanera from Carmen as sensual and exciting, so I found it bizarre that it was used to underscore a humdrum daily routine in Pixar’s Up. That said, this was an odd artistic decision, but clearly not a case of operatic ignorance. There’s even a little bird figurine as a reference to the aria’s lyrics, for those in the know!

A bonus: while the use of opera is very deliberate, this 1970s commercial for the game Battleship clearly demonstrates inappropriate behavior at the opera.

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