Overture, curtain, lights! Opera-related music goes front and center this year

A detail from The Opera Orchestra by Edgar Degas: 11 opera-related works have been programmed for this season.

In the January issue of BBC Music Magazine, music critic George Hall discussed the seeming decline in the once-prevalent practice of performing operatic overtures as an opener on symphonic programs. While that trend might be unfolding elsewhere, that’s not the case for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which will feature five overtures this season. Four will be led by Music Director Riccardo Muti, who is obviously a fan, and the other will be under the direction of guest conductor Manfred Honeck. Opera will have a strong presence in other ways, including two concert suites, as well as a work for violin and orchestra built around excerpts from Georges Bizet’s ever-popular opera Carmen.

Here is a look at the 11 opera-related works that will be heard as part of the CSO’s 2022-23 Season:       

Sept. 29-30 and Oct. 1, Rossini, Overture to Il viaggio a Reims, conducted by Riccardo Muti. This selection is not really an overture at all, because the original 1825 opera didn’t have one. Instead, this work was assembled in the 20th century from a set of dances associated with another Rossini opera, Le siège de Corinthe, and it has become popular in its own right.

Nov. 3-5, Wagner, Prelude to Act 3 of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, conducted by Edward Gardner. This well-known excerpt comes from Wagner’s only comic work among his mature operas, a five-hour blockbuster set in the 16th century when Nuremberg was an important Renaissance center. The story revolves around the city’s flourishing master singers guild and the creation of a prize song.  

Nov. 10-12, Wagner, Siegfried Idyll, conducted by Harry Bicket. Originally written as a birthday present to his second wife, Cosima, in 1870, Wagner later incorporated the work into Siegfried, one of the four operas that make up the composer’s celebrated Ring cycle.  

Nov. 10-12, Rameau, Suite from Platée. This opera by one of France’s great composers has become better known in recent decades especially because of a much-lauded revival by director Laurent Pelly. Bicket conducted that version at the Santa Fe (N.M.) Opera in 2007.

Nov. 17-20, Glinka, Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, conducted by Manfred Honeck. The 1842 opera, based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin, is rarely produced, but its overture has become a concert staple. It was notably used as the theme for the popular 2013-21 TV series “Mom.”

April 13-15, Sarasate/Bizet, Carmen Fantasy, Hilary Hahn, violin, Mikko Franck, conductor. Pablo de Sarasate, a well-known 19th-century violin virtuoso and composer, created this fantasy on themes from the opera Carmen. This popular showpiece is one of the most technically demanding works for the violin, and it will be performed here by Hahn, the CSO’s Artist-in-Residence.

April 13-15, Richard Strauss, Suite from Der Rosenkavalier. This 1911 comic opera by Richard Strauss was an immediate success, and it continues to rank among his most among the frequently performed operas.

May 4-6 and 9, Vivaldi, Sinfonia from La Senna festeggiante (Festival on the Seine), conducted by Giovanni Antonini. Three of Vivaldi’s serenatas survive, including this one that paid tribute to Louis XV of France. A serenata is not, strictly speaking, an opera, but it is a large-scale, often celebratory composition for vocal soloists and orchestra that has a libretto, albeit non-dramatic, and is certainly operatic in style. 

May 11-13 and 16, Wagner, Overture to Tannhäuser, conducted by Muti. This is the preface to another of Wagner’s most frequently performed operas, an 1845 work based on two German legends. 

May 18-20 and 23, Cimarosa, Overture to Il matrimonio segreto, conducted by Muti: One of the most popular composers of the late 18th century, Domenico Cimarosa is hardly a household name these days, but this 1792 comic opera continues to be performed regularly. Not surprisingly, Muti is an advocate of this work by a fellow Neapolitan.

June 15-17, Johann Strauss Jr., Overture to Indigo and the 40 Thieves, led by Muti: Johann Strauss Jr. is best known as “The Waltz King,” but he also wrote some 20 operettas, including the oft-produced classic, Die Fledermaus. This work, which debuted in 1871, is based on the folk tale Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.