Muppets at the opera

Muppets at the opera

Jenna Simeonov

There is this fascinating relationship between opera and the Muppets.  Considering that The Muppet Show follows the blueprint of the classic revue show, it’s not that odd; revues are built on sophisticated satire of anyone or anything famous at the time.  Most of the guests were actors and/or musicians, including  Alan Arkin, Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, Johnny Cash, Ethel Merman, John Cleese, Alice Cooper and Chewbacca. And honestly, if Chewie gets to grace the Muppet stage with his noble howl, so does Placido Domingo.

You know you’ve made it big in the opera industry when you make it on the Muppets. This impressive roster of opera singers who have appeared with the Muppets, either on _Sesame Street_ or The Muppet Show, confirms that. Check it out: Marilyn Horne, Samuel Ramey, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Isabel Leonard, Renee FlemingVictor Borge and Denyce Graves have all serenaded a puppet or two. One of the first appearances by an opera singer on The Muppet Show was in 1969, by none other than Beverly Sills, starring alongside Miss Piggy in an original pastiche, entitled Pigoletto. It’s so darn charming:

The Muppet Show - Pigoletto (Beverly Sills) by Dwiggy

From then on, the operatic floodgates were open. We saw Samuel Ramey sing about the letter L (‘cause it’s really lllow),

Marilyn Horne singing about cookies,

and Plácido Domingo just being suave.

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard made a more recent appearance with some Muppets on an episode of Sesame Street this year for the show’s 43rd season finale. How cute is this?

Even the Muppets themselves do renditions of operatic hits, sans opera star. There’s Upside Down Opera, a collaboration by Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson (“The Fuzz Brothers”); there’s the joyous Beaker-overload that is Ode to Joy. Miss Piggy’s rendition of “La ci darem la mano” (Don Giovanni) shows she’s not picky about her duet partner (can I get a Zerlina up in here?)

And, I mean, how could you not love a Beaker-Swedish Chef-Bizet mash-up?

Interesting factoid: Jim Henson knew and had worked with Maurice Sendak, illustrator for the how-could-you-not-love-this children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. Sendak actually adapted the book into a libretto for an opera by the same name, written by Oliver Knussen as half of a double-bill with another adaptation of Sendak’s, Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life. (Both available on Rdio here.) Jim Henson even went to Glyndebourne to go see the double-bill, as well as a production of Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges for which Sendak had worked as a designer.

The small but significant connection was between Jim Henson and Maurice Sendak. Sendak, known best as the worked at the Children’s Television Workshop during the development stages of Sesame Street, and Henson was around because some of his beloved Muppets were going to become part of _Sesame Street_’s cast. The two of them collaborated on childrens’ programs like Seven Little Monsters and Bumble Ardy. Sendak had worked in the operatic industry as a designer (for Glyndebourne’s 1982 production of Love for Three Oranges, no less) and as a librettist for Oliver Knussen’s operatic setting of, you guessed it, Where the Wild Things Are. And Jim Henson even went to Glyndebourne to see it.

So I envision at the very least, as the Sesame Street suits at the Children’s Television Workshop meet around the big conference table the corner office, someone must have vouched for opera as a great point of satire. And that’s why we have this:

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