What the Fugue is an Overture?

Posted on Sep 12, 2016 in What the Fugue?
What the Fugue is an Overture?

So, what the fugue is an overture?

Technically it’s the orchestral piece at the beginning of an opera, ballet, or other performance piece with little to no stage action happening. It’s an intro, kind of like the music that plays during the credits before the movie starts, but longer. Most of the time, overtures introduce musical themes you’ll hear throughout the opera or ballet you are about to see.

Take note of any particularly interesting or beautiful melodies you hear, it’s likely they will return later. It’s a teaser of sorts, but without spoilers, I promise.

Think about when you go on a hike or climb a 14er: You get glimpses of the views you will see from the top at the beginning of the hike, but it isn’t until later you get to fully realize the view. Same with overtures, it’s a taste of what’s to come.

BeethovenDepending which era of musical history the piece comes from, the more rules the overture follows and usually, the older the piece, the longer the overture. Back in the day, music critics were quite the sticklers for rules. Today you can hear overtures at the beginning of a full stage production or excerpted by a symphony in concert. That is what you will hear the Denver Philharmonic do with the overtures to Leonore and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Grand Opening of the Antonia Brico Stage on September 30.

Originally the composers, Beethoven and Wagner, wrote them to be played along with their operas of the same names (though later Leonore became Fidelio, don’t ask me why). In this concert, you get the gorgeous teaser music without the next three to four hours of German opera. But I promise, after dangling this luscious music in front of you, you’ll want the German operas that follow.

So, if the person in the seat next you asks what the fugue an overture is, you can now give them all the details they need. Enjoy the concert!

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By Brett Sprague. Brett is the assistant director of the Opera Colorado Young Artist Program. An American tenor, Brett is currently singing at Indianapolis Opera in the world premiere of Happy Birthday Wanda June. He’ll return to Opera Colorado to perform Arturo in their production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in May.