CD 1 begins with some classic operatic overtures by Rossini, starting with Il barbiere di Siviglia and La scala di seta. Then come three brilliant overtures from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni, followed by examples of operatic overtures by Italian composers: Donizetti, Bellini and Wolf-Ferrari. The scene then shifts to Russia for the overture to Glinka’s colourful opera Ruslan and Ludmilla and the delightful overture that introduces Tchaikovsky’s greatly loved ballet The Nutcracker. The CD ends with the popular overtures to Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and Reznicek’s Donna Diana.
CD 2 starts with a collection of pieces by Verdi, including the powerful overture to La forza del destino and the poignant prelude to La traviata. We then move to France for the spectacular prelude to Bizet’s Carmen, the overture to Gounod’s Faust and some high-spirited music by Offenbach to begin his operettas La Vie Parisienne and Orphée aux enfers. The CD ends with our first example of German music, namely the overture to Hansel und Gretel by Humperdinck.
CD 3 takes us back in time to the Baroque era, with overtures by Purcell and Handel, including the introduction to Messiah, and then we hear operatic overtures by Beethoven (Fidelio) and Weber (Der Freischütz and Euryanthe). These are followed by some of the most famous symphonic overtures by Suppé, including Dichter und Bauer (‘Poet and Peasant’) and Leichte Kavallerie (‘Light Cavalry’), which is always such a hit at the BBC Promenade Concerts in London each summer. Then come Nicolai’s delightful overture to Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor and extracts from the overtures to two much-loved operettas by Johann Strauss II: Die Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron. The CD ends with some powerful music from the operas of Wagner, including the overtures to Der fliegende Holländer and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the stirring prelude to Act III of Die Walküre, known as the Ride of the Valkyries.
CD 4 begins with more operatic overtures by Handel and Mozart, as well as three overtures by Gluck, including Orfeo ed Euridice. Then come three of Beethoven’s great concert overtures:
Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Coriolan and Egmont. The CD concludes with two contrasting Italian operatic overtures by Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix and Don Pasquale.
CD 5 opens with more Rossini overtures, including La gazza ladra and Semiramide, and then more overtures by Bellini (Norma and I Capuletti e i Montecchi) and Gounod (Roméo et Juliette). These are followed by extracts from two of Tchaikovsky’s most famous symphonic overtures: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture and the spectacular 1812 Overture. Shostakovich’s Festive Overture then leads us to three light-hearted overtures to the English light operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, starting with the lively H.M.S. PInafore.
CD 6 continues with extracts from more Gilbert and Sullivan overtures, including The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, then after a brief glimpse of Elgar’s symphonic overture Cockaigne – subtitled ‘In London Town’ – we move to the field of musicals, starting with the overture to a classical British show from the Edwardian era: The Arcadians. This is followed by overtures to some of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time, from Gershwin’s Girl Crazy, via Kern’s immortal Show Boat, through the great shows of the 1940s and 50s like Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun and Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate to Leonard Bernstein’s sparkling Wonderful Town and his brilliant Candide.