Rossini's opera overtures - a guide

Gioachino Rossini is one of history's best-loved opera composers, and his overtures are the perfect place to get a flavour of them. Find out why with our guide to his best ones!

Giachino Rossini photograph

You can't get very far in classical music without stumbling over one of Gioachino Rossini's operatic overtures. His operas were all the rage in the early 19th century thanks to their cheeky humour and rollicking tunes, but where's the best place to start with the core of his repertoire, the overtures?

First of all, it's best to establish what we're talking about when we talk about overtures. In a normal operatic overture (played at the beginning of the show) you can expect to hear a few tunes from the opera itself, without singing. The basic idea is to warm the audience up - and few can do it better than Rossini. So, where to start?

The Barber Of Seville

Starting with an orchestral "Ta-da!", it's impossible not to be at least a little bit charmed by this one. There's a good reason people called Rossini the 'Italian Mozart' - he uses dainty melodies and plinking accompaniment at the beginning, but it doesn't take long  for it to erupt into pure fireworks. This is still one of opera's big-hitters with some monster tunes throughout, so it's a great place to start.

The Thieving Magpie

Prepare yourself for some cracking snare drum rolls here. The war-time setting of this opera made Rossini incorporate all sorts of militaristic devices in The Thieving Magpie, but the overture is another typically boisterous affair once you get past the stately opening. At the centre, though, is one of Rossini's most famous waltz themes.

The Italian Girl In Algiers

This is a slightly less well-known opera from Rossini, although it still enjoys plenty of performances around the world, but the overture is where all the action is. Listen out for the little orchestral 'stabs' throughout the opening, before it opens up into a typically white-knuckle series of cheeky melodies and explosive statements. Rip-roaring stuff.

William Tell

There was no way we were leaving this one off the list. The William Tell overture's place in the classical canon is assured, but it's through its extensive use in popular culture that it's become culturally bulletproof. Any number of cartoons, movies, TV shows and ringtones have used the famous 'diddy-dum diddy-dum diddy-dum-dum-dum', giving the overture incredible popularity.

But what you might not realise is that there's rather a large opening section that is usually not heard. It takes a good eight or nine minutes before the thunderous trumpet fanfare arrives to takes us to the famous climax. It's one of the most famous pieces in operatic history, but make sure you digest the overture in its entirety to get the most out of it.

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