Performing Arts Lingo: Overture

Inside the Theater

The Smith Center has arguably created a closer connection to Broadway for Las Vegans in its nearly four-year existence. The Bridges of Madison County, praised for it’s traditional approach to musicals and winner of Best Original Score and Best Orchestration at the 2014 Tony Awards, comes to Reynolds Hall Feb. 23-28, followed by 2014 Best Musical winner A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder March 8-13. The latter’s sardonic use of an overture to introduce the performance brings us to January’s edition of Performance Art Lingo.

A musical overture is, at it’s simplest, an introduction. The French, une overteure translates as “an opening,” but its first application in performing arts was to the slow-to-fast rhythmic openings of mid-17th century France court ballets. By the end of the 1600s Italian opera incorporated fast-slow-fast beginnings to opera, and overtures began to take form as a musical pieces that previewed songs audiences were about to hear or worked as separate compositions. By the 19th century the “concert overture” was established, with pieces such as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Rossini’s William Tell Overture as well as more functional overtures such the stirring opening to Bizet’s Carmen achieving canonical status.

Overtures began to be used to set the tone of golden-age Broadway musicals and sound-era films, often with medleys that previewed numbers from the soundtrack or the introduction of the strongest theme from a score. In Gentlemen’s Guide it’s a stand-alone opening that effectively conveys the darkly satirical entertainment that follows. Despite the warning, “The faint of heart” will unlikely need to heed casts’ warning to “best depart” from the tale of a man who murders his way to the top.