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Where have I heard that before…?

11 October 2019
A lady tied with rope kneels in front of a man in uniform, also on his knees

Music sticks in our brains better than anything else. There has been a lot of research into how music evokes memories and enables us to retain information. The question as to why you remember a jaunty tune better than where you left your keys relies on one thing; exposure. Background music seeps into our everyday lives in the supermarket, at restaurants and of course through advertisements on TV.

This means we sometimes find ourselves humming along to a song we didn’t even know we knew. This is where WNO comes in, opera has some of the catchiest tunes in the world and this Season we have two operas that contain the best of them all. 

If you look on IMDb, Georges Bizet has 418 soundtrack credits after his name - a hefty amount that spans 27 films including Beyoncé’s Hip Hopera, BBC 3’s Bollywood version and the musical Carmen Jones, all reimagining the masterpiece that is Carmen.

Its great versatility means it can be used earnestly, think superstar musician Stromae’s reworking of Habanera, instead of a seductive song the wild bird becomes a symbol of Twitter and the consumerist society we live in. However, it also works extremely well in comedy - the best of these being cartoons. Tom and Jerry did a whole episode where they end up conducting at the Met; the Animaniacs used it in the episode O Silly Mio and Family Guy fans may remember when Brian the dog bonds with an elderly woman after hearing her sing the famous aria. 

Similarly Verdi’s La donna è mobile from Rigoletto has been adapted, changed and reconstructed into a triad of different medias. Advertisers can’t resist it as it gets stuck in your head thus making a great marketing tool. To name a few companies who have used it: Nestlé, Lynx body spray, Leggo’s tomato paste and the infamous Doritos ad at the Super Bowl.

In the film The Family Man, Nicolas Cage fittingly performs La donna è mobile bursting through the doors after a night of passion in nothing but his underwear; every bit the womanising Duke as in the opera. It makes a cameo appearance in many of his movies, such as Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Guarding Tess.

But it’s not just films that have taken full advantage of the cheerful jingle, TV has jumped on the bandwagon with shows such as The Mentalist, Brooklyn 99 and The Simpsons, even reality TV gulps it up; appearing on Dancing with the Stars. It’s also branched into the hugely popular video game Grand Theft Auto.

Everybody knows the best way to get rid of an earworm is to listen to the original again. So come and see the Duke belt out La donna è mobile in all its authentic glory, or Carmen take down the house with her exhilarating entrance, Habanera. Then next time you think ‘where have I heard that before?’ you’ll know – at WNO of course.