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Why I love overtures

Lily Casson is bringing her show, I Heart Musicals, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with English Cabaret this summer, which will coincide with the launch of a new website that will share her exploration of a century of song. Leading up to her show's premiere, we are offering a preview of some of her musical thoughts.

In this post, Lily explores her love of overtures and why they are the perfect introduction to the world of musicals!

There is nothing more exhilarating than hearing an overture in a theatre before the curtain goes up. A reverent hush descends upon the audience, as they turn off their phones and shuffle to get comfortable in their seats. There is a spine-tingling feeling of delight as the orchestra tunes up over whispered conversations. As the pre-show announcement fades away, a wave of sound washes over the ears of the audience, immersing them in melodies. Whether you know them or not, it is a perfect introduction to the tunes that you will feast on – aurally and visually - for the next 2 ½ hours.

Listening to an overture gets you into the right mood before the curtain rises. As there's nothing yet on stage, I know some find it dull and unnecessary, rudely talking loudly through them to show their disinterest. But I love having a moment to collect my thoughts and focus on the show I’m about to see.

For me, this feeling is also conjured up with recorded overtures on cast albums. The swell of music catches you up short wherever you happen to be, giving you a rush of energy that makes you feel full of anticipation even if you don’t happen to be in a theatre.


So what is an overture? And where does the idea for an overture come from? When I decided to write this post, I wanted to find out a bit more about what the meaning of the word overture was and how the tradition began.

I was fascinated to discover the word comes from the French ouverture meaning opening, which makes sense as it is literally played as the curtain opens. Its classical description is of a stand-alone piece containing themes from the forthcoming musical drama. Originally, this would be a large work such an oratorio, but it really became established in the 17th century as an introduction to an opera.

Musical writers have taken this concept and run with it since musicals began 100 years ago, and I'm glad that they have adapted to fit the genre as the years have gone by.


I love hearing snatches of tunes before they appear on stage and I believe they're the perfect introduction to the world of musicals. Like an appetiser with a sparkling glass of champagne, the best overtures whet your appetite for the substantial meal in the performance to come. The essence of each show served up with an accompanying fizz and excitement in one perfectly balanced morsel with flavours and textures to excite the listener's palate (and ear!)

No wonder overtures are one of my favourite component parts of a visit to the theatre. My hope is that more people come to love them and the feeling of anticipation they evoke, as much as I do!

Listen to Lily's Top 10 overtures playlist on YouTube

This post was first published on Her new site is in development and her live show is playing at 21:20 on 11th, 13th, 20th, 25th and 27th August at C Venues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. BOOK NOW!

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