The first opera I ever saw was a Dallas Opera production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville, featuring the American operatic stage debut of Cecilia Bartoli. There are a few operas whose overtures excel the music of the opera. In my opinion, Rossini's Guillaume Tell (which we all remember from Bugs and Elmer) is not nearly so engaging as the music which heralds its arrival. In other operas like the former two I mentioned, the music is bursting with the promise of the grandiosity to come in the evening. That first night, I was besotted when I saw all those people got up in wild costume, running around and yelling in a very fancy way. I thought "I can do that." And I can, too.
Even if you are not a fan of opera, even if you don't mean to stay for the entire performance, you really should at least once in your life show up for the experience of the Overture. I recommend Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro or The Barber of Seville. In TBOS, the first strains of the orchestra are quiet, tight as a drum and their plaintive whisper commands attention in a way most stimulating. The music builds and recedes, each musical idea planting the seed which will later germinate into great billowing swags of musical motifs in the form of arias and lush orchestration. It's all there in that first, appetite-whetting taste at the beginning of the opera. Then you are on the edge of your seat: something exciting is about to happen. This performance will only happen exactly this way once in the history of all the world, and you are there as witness. The energy of that moment is absolutely heady. All the dandies out in their finery, swirling silks, velvets and brocades, and the air is full of exquisite perfumes. Here's to the true alchemy of worlds wrought from a fertile musical idea and a bit of stagecraft.
The Kings Singers perfoming the Overture to The Barber of Seville in Boston, 1982