.Overtures to Opera

Santa Cruz Symphony Spotlight on Irresistible Operas

At the upcoming Santa Cruz Symphony program Operas of Seville, audiences will be transported by five of the best-known and best-loved operatic overtures.

The selected overtures for this fast-moving program features music from operas set in Seville, the southernmost region of Spain. What is it about Seville? Perhaps the jasmine-scented plazas, street musicians, or hidden alleys perfect for secret rendezvous.

And the towering monuments, the Alhambra Palace, flamenco dance floors, bullrings, Moorish architecture. A royal Alcazar palace set amongst towering palms and endless arcades of golden stonework. To composers based in Northern Europe, Seville (almost touching North Africa) must have sparked endless inspiration for the imagination. What a setting for intrigue, rivalry and romance! In other words—opera!

And what better way to introduce audiences to the glories of some of the world’s favorite operas than by a program of musical overtures, in which the major themes of song and drama are all unfurled. Think of it as a quick overview of the opera’s greatest hits.

Don Giovanni (1787) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a runaway favorite among opera lovers. One of Mozart’s masterpieces exploring the follies and foibles of human desire, the opera tells of a notorious womanizer, his delightful playmates and exuberant sidekick Leporallo and the episodes of romantic deceit that lead to his ultimate just desserts. From promises of love to his final hours descending into the underworld, Don G’s overture threads its way through the opera’s breathtaking love songs, gorgeous quartets and thundering final pronouncements. Themes dance, repeat and morph their way through the unforgettable music that defines Mozart’s greatness, mercurial, fully human tragedy.

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Rossini’s comic masterpiece Barber of Seville (1816) is loaded with lively arias, duets, trios and midnight romps. The overture will reprise the hilarious and convoluted plot in which Figaro the mischievous barber tricks locals and gentry alike into a playful kaleidoscope of mistaken identities. Witty and intricate melodies, often played at a furious pace, enliven Rossini’s delicious music and make this overture a musical romp.

The only opera composed by the orchestral genius Ludwig van Beethoven, Leonore (1805) (eventually re-worked and shortened under the title Fidelio) offers music-lovers a thrilling experience that threads its way through themes of marital fidelity. The plot concentrates on the opera’s central protagonist, a Spanish noblewoman Leonore, who disguises herself in order to sneak behind prison walls to rescue her incarcerated husband. In the overture we’ll hear refrains from all three acts of the operatic tribute to marriage, from French comic opera, heroic choral anthems, and traditional folk song—all spun through the grandeur of Beethoven’s vision.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Force of Destiny (1962) showcases the Italian composer’s heroic and sweeping orchestral themes. One of the most popular and highly-performed of all operatic composers, Verdi essentially owns melodrama. His story of doomed love set in Seville offers huge helpings of clandestine romance, accidental murder, disguise, religious salvation and tearful tragedy. Luscious themes of love between a nobleman’s daughter and her sweetheart, as well as the pivotal duel between soldier rivals, are swept up in the orchestral imagery created by the prolific Italian composer.

And Georges Bizet’s Carmen (1875) is such a world-wide favorite that it remains one of the top entry-level operas for newcomers, as well as treasured favorite of seasoned music lovers. The fiery love story is set amongst the rowdy workers in a tobacco factory. It features the unforgettable meeting between a soldier, a matador and the wild peasant beauty they both love.

The exuberant overture is replete with the exotic, tragic and unforgettable melodies, including the sensuous and hypnotic habanera that have made Carmen one of the very first pieces of classical music many of us ever encountered. The spellbinding melodic themes have enough charm and power to create life-long opera-lovers. It was my first opera and remains indelible in my musical memory.

Operas of Seville, Sat 7:30pm October 21, Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium

                             Sun, 2pm, October 22, Mello Center for the Performing Arts



  1. Love this piece! You capture the spirit of opera so perfectly. I got my kids interested in it at a young age, taking them to see English versions so they wouldn’t get bored. Even now, in their 50s, they still love operatic music. I mean, what is opera except a musical written in Italian, French, or German? It’s all love, intrigue, passion, sweetness, murder…. and women who die of tuberculosis. LOL

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