There ain’t no sanity claus I: The Marx brothers at the opera

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A N ight a t the Opera is not the only film in which the Marx Brothers explic­ itly make reference to the world of opera. In Coconuts (1929), Harpo destroys a cash register to the music of the A nvil Chorus from Verdi’s II Trovatore. In that opera, the A nvil Chorus expresses the gypsies’ joy at their hammering away at work. Harpo takes the chorus’ text literally: the gypsies’ hammering music accompanies the hammering of the cash register in the film. The piece is heard again in Animal Crackers (1930) where Chico plays it on the piano while Harpo accompanies him on horseshoes. In Monkey Business (1931), Groucho mocks an interview with a diva, and Harpo later shuts his ears while accompanying her singing. In the final scene of Duck Soup (1933), the Marx Brothers throw apples at Margaret Dumont’s operatic rendering of Freedonia’s national anthem. In At the Circus (1939), a short fragment from Verdi’s Aida is heard as Margaret Dumont enters a gala dinner, followed by her attempt to give a speech. Covering her voice, a trumpeting sound of an elephant fills the room. It is a circus ele­ phant that follows and replaces the music of Aida. Shortly after, an orchestra on a floating platform plays Wagner’s overture to The F lying Dutchman as it drifts out to sea, the audience left behind on shore to enjoy the circus show that replaces the concert. In the Marx Brothers’ world, “The Flying Dutchman�? might well be the name of a performer on a flying trapeze in the circus. A tra­ peze act in fact takes place as the operatic ship sails on.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBetween Opera and Cinema
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781136534003
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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