Lucy On The Screen With Stooges

3stooge lead

What are you doing for New Year’s Eve?  Need any ideas?

How about—Three Stooges Karaoke?

As the YouTube poster Michael T. Hayes who uploaded this clip comments, “Who says opera has to be stuffy?”

If you’ve any doubts about what you’re watching (and hearing), Stooge regular Symona Boniface identifies it for you:  “Sextet from Lucia,” she says approvingly.  The others around her nod, also in approval.

Just goes to show—We Stoogeites are nothing if not noledgeable!

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‘Sextet’ is a misnomer here, as there are only three performers, they being Senorita Cucaracha, the stoutish soprano in the middle, and her flanking partners, Senors Gusto and Mucho, basso and tenor.  Still, although Lucia’s famous set piece may have been reduced in half, its essence comes through—that of a bunch of singers warbling their hearts out in anguish at the unfortunate situation they’re in.  The situation, in this case, being that they’re not singing at all

As we find out when our trio is literally unplugged…

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I could slap on a neat little bit of meta analysis here.  Like, how this number is a commentary on, and a parody of, the making of Hollywood musicals, in which the singers, during filming, are lip-syncing to an earlier recording, whether of their own singing or another’s.  This means that what the audience is hearing is not being produced by the performer, at least not in the moment of performing.  Thus alienating the performer from the physical performance; and thus further alienating the audience from the means of production of the music and singing.  So, you see, my dear children, all that pleasure we’re supposed to be enjoying while watching a movie musical is really…a profound experience of alienation.

Oh, the Brechtness of it all.  Oh, the Horror.

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Yet, experiencing all this Horror didn’t alienate the Stooges from Lucia’s Sextet.  Three years later they had another crack at it, in full-throated Gusto (and more than a bit of Mucho), with Shemp substituting for Curly and, in similar interchangeable fashion, substituting their own lyrics to Donizetti’s tune:

In case you’d like to sing along, here are the lyrics, carefully listened to and copied down:

[Stooges] Oh, Elaine, Elaine, come out, babe

Take a look who’s standing here, right here

The big boy is here, we see the coast is clear

[Shemp] He wants to see you, so come out on your front pooorchhh!

{he coulda said ‘verandah,’ but he said ‘porch’—}

Oh Elaine, come out, oh, please come out

Time is short, the guards are hanging about

Your Cedric’s here, no kidding, Cedric’s here—

[Elaine] I see, I see my darling Cedric standing there!

I know, I know that I will soon be in his arms again

[Stooges] She knows, she knows that she will soon be in his arms again

[Elaine] Ye but flee, the Black Prince is lurking near

I will raise the shade, the lovely shade, when the coast is clear!

[Stooges] She will raise the shade when the coast is clear! (etc.)

Oh!  Oh!  Oh!— Uh-Oh—

I like what the Stooges and their lovely co-star, Christine McIntyre, do here.  They take what was originally a static lament, a threnody to misery, and change it to a serenade of action and optimism.  The Stooges will bring Elaine’s lover to her…uh, front porch, while Elaine will signal when the coast is clear by the simple means of raising a shade.  And in coloratura style, to boot.  When has this humble, ordinary window treatment ever been more glorified for its common usage?  I tell ya, folks, Opera elevates!

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But (to slap on another analytic bit) why should these films pick on Lucia di Lammermoor?  Let me phrase that more diplomatically—why feature its Sextet, one of the most famous set pieces in the operatic canon, in what’s essentially low-brow humor?  Writer James M. Keller in a 2017 article notes the Sextet’s journey from the 19th-century opera stage to 20th-century pop culture, appearing not only in a rendition by John Philip Sousa’s band, but in recordings, films, and animated cartoons, “moving,” he writes, “to the world of comedy in spite of itself.”  Next to the William Tell Overture and the “Ride of the Valkyries,” the Sextet may be the most iconic operatic piece referenced in cinema; it’s so well-known, it can appear in a Three Stooges short, no explanation needed for its being there.

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But is Lucia’s Sextet’s move to comedy really so startling?  Yes, it’s famous, and beautiful, and grand, but, in its very nature, it’s an embodiment of Excess—six singers, each trilling his or her own narrative line, yet blending together musically, the voices weaving in and around the main melody, rising and falling with the drama—now you hear the tenor, now the soprano—the whole forming its own, isolated, show-stopping moment on stage (literally, as in the famous Callas-Von Karajan 1955 live performance, with its audience-demanded encore).  But, like so much of opera for us today, its meaning is secondary.  No one listens to the Sextet for what the characters are actually saying.  It’s a gorgeous, magnificent piece of music that yet trembles, ever so slightly, on the brink of Camp—one excessive note too many and you’ll hear it plunge.

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As Susan Sontag noted in her famous essay, “Notes on Camp,” “Camp art is often decorative art, emphasizing texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content” [italics mine].  As she further notes, Camp also “contain[s] a large measure of artifice.  Nothing in nature can be campy.”  And there may be fewer things in art and life more artificial, more stylized, more sensuous for its own sake, than Opera—which exists for Excess, both in its musicalized emotions and its (literally) melodramatic view of life.  It’s why, writes Sontag, the “Camp sensibility is…alive to a double sense in which some things can be taken.”  But it’s also that ‘doubled’ sense, of looking at the world both straight on and askew, that applies to comedy—which takes note of both the seriousness of the world and its inhabitants, and its, and their, (really) excessive Silliness.

And what is more gloriously, momentously, sublimely silly than the Stooges Three?  What more natural candidates could there be to perform Lucia’s Sextet—first turning it into a trio, than a quartet…but, dang, with these guys, it works

So, if, as you head into your New Year’s Eve celebration (is there anything more silly and campy than a New Year’s Eve party?), and you find yourself humming a few bars of “Chi mi frena in tal momento…”—I think Moe, Larry, and Curly, as well as Shemp, just might be humming along with you…

Happy New Year.

Stooge final


You can watch the complete Micro-Phonies (1945) by clicking here.

You can watch the complete Squareheads of the Round Table (1948) by clicking here.


Bonus Clip:  For a ‘straight’ rendition of Lucia‘s Sextet, here’s its performance in the 1951 biopic The Great Caruso.  Mario Lanza, in the title role, leads off the Sextet onstage as Edgardo, while a whole other drama is happening offstage, as he anxiously awaits news of the birth of his child (which may have been based on a true incident).  Appearing also onstage is the noted soprano Dorothy Kirsten as Lucia.  Comic actor Bert Roach can be seen as the stagehand holding the spotlight.  Filmed at the height of MGM’s musical production period, in lush Technicolor, with lavish costumes, magnificent singing, and some great camera work and editing, the sequence is grand, silly, excessive…and utterly glorious.  Like they say, they don’t make movies like this anymore.  If you want a taste of what grand opera and grand movie-making can be like, then watch:


Bonus Clip 2:  This is a 1908 audio recording of the real Enrico Caruso in the Sextet from Lucia, along with the dream cast of that era, including Marcella Sembrich, Antonio Scotti, and Marcel Journet.  The recording was then synchronized with a silent film of local singers ‘performing’ the Sextet for the camera and lip-syncing to the record.  Senorita Cucaracha is late to this campy game:


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