ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Opera Southwest will gallop through the opening of its 2017-2018 season with possibly the most famous overture ever written.
The curtain-lifting finale of Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell” may inspire listeners to think “Hi, ho Siver!” before the melody is complete. Its “March of the Swiss Soldiers” is inextricably linked to both the radio and TV version of “The Lone Ranger.”
Opera Southwest will perform the composer’s final opera starting this weekend at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
The story concerns a 14th century Swiss folklore hero who defies the established authority by refusing to salute a symbol of the state, then largely ruled by Austria.
“It’s basically the story of their liberation,” music director and Rossini scholar Anthony Barrese said. “Because Tell refuses to kneel, (the governor) says, ‘I’m going to either murder you or you can shoot an arrow off the head of your son.’ ”
Rossini wrote his final opera 37, although he lived for another 40 years, Barrese said.
“It’s the culmination of his art,” Barrese said. “He lived around the time of Beethoven, and that style was becoming dominant. I think he said, ‘I’ve said what I need to say.’ ”
Still, the music features some hints of romanticism amid the more traditional classicism.
“It certainly looks forward to romanticism a lot,” Barrese said. “There’s stuff in there that sounds like Verdi or Donizetti. There are very few passages that sound like ‘The Barber of Seville,’ ” Rossini’s great comic opera, which premiered in 1816.
“William Tell” premiered in Paris in 1829, with a libretto by Étienne de Joury and Hippolyte Bis based on Friedrich Schiller’s play of the same name.
At the time, Rossini was the most popular operatic composer alive. Paris was becoming the European music magnet.
“They were expecting something great from him,” Barrese said.
The opera was originally five hours long; Rossini began cutting it after just three performances. No one is really sure of the final intended version. Opera Southwest will perform the piece in just over three hours, Barrese said.
The music has much more to offer than a TV show theme.
“My goal the entire season has been to not mention that once,” Barrese said. “It’s also a wonderful piece in and of itself.”
“The challenges are for the orchestra and the chorus,” he continued. “It’s the most choral music we’ve ever had. And it’s in French; French is notoriously difficult to sing. And the orchestral music is quite daunting.”
“William Tell” marks the seventh Rossini opera staged by the company.
Baritone Sean Anderson will sing the role of Tell. Soprano Sharin Apostolou will sing the role of Jemmy, Tell’s son. Claudia Chapa is Hedwige, Tell’s wife; Caroline Worra is Mathilde, a Habsburg princess.