You may not know the name of opera’s most recognizable tenor aria, but chances are that at some point in your lifetime, you’ve heard someone belt out a highly melodramatic fragment of a tune, “No more Rice Krispies!”
Krusty the Klown sang the famous lyrics in “The Italian Bob” episode of The Simpsons, with the Simpson family onstage as supernumeraries and Sideshow Bob (voiced by Kelsey Grammer, who won an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for the role) complaining from his box seat that “This clown is ruining Leoncavallo!”
But to find the origins of this bizarre partnership between a popular breakfast cereal and the world’s most famous tenor aria, we have to go back to 1969. The Leo Burnett advertising company of Chicago produced a spot called “Vesti,” featuring the aria with their unique lyrics. The campaign was so successful that it won a Cannes Gold Lion Award and earned a spot in the Advertising Hall of Fame. Entertainment Weekly Magazine even listed it as one of the 50 Greatest TV Commercials of All Time.
In the commercial, we see a family having breakfast with a voice-over announcing PBS-style “Great Moments at Breakfast, presented by Kellogg’s Rice Krispies” as the dramatic aria plays underneath. The father sings in happy anticipation of dining on his favorite cereal, but his dreams of snap-crackle-pop are quickly dashed by the realization that they’ve run out, prompting the operatic wail, “No more Rice Krispies! We’ve run out of Rice Krispies!” A moment of hope: more Rice Krispies are delivered — but this is opera, so we can’t have an (entirely) happy ending: the precious cereal is delivered by a disapproving mother-in-law.
The ad is as classic as the opera. But it’s not just character actors and cartoon characters belting out this famous tune. Florida Grand Opera’s very own Canio, tenor Limmie Pulliam, performed the iconic Rice Krispies version of “Vesti la giubba” at a Kansas City Opera concert!
You won’t hear anything about Rice Krispies at our performance of I pagliacci, but you will hear Limmie Pulliam sing the heart-wrenching original and discover why it’s one of the most popular tenor arias of all time. You’ll also hear Kearstin Piper Brown’s Nedda singing the bittersweet and beautiful “Stridono lassu,” in which the restless young woman longs for the freedom and joy of birds on the wing; Robert Mellon as Tonio singing the famous and deceptively playful Prologue; and Studio Artist Joseph McBrayer with Beppe’s serenade, “O, Colombina.” Jokes aside, this is music and storytelling you won’t want to miss.
Catch I pagliacci January 27, 28, or 30 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, or February 8 or 10 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at fgo.org.