Prelude or overture? But then there's The Prologue!

Prelude or overture? But then there's The Prologue!
Source: reusableart.com

The annual question of what new season we have begun -- Autumn or Fall -- has caused me to think of other things that have double names. Preface or Introduction? Prelude or Overture?

When I thought of the latter, I couldn't help thinking of one of my favorite pieces of music, the baritone aria at the beginning of "I Pagliacci," Leoncavallo's great opera about clowns. Sure, I love "Vesti la giubba," when the heartbroken tenor clown tries to convince himself that the show must go on.That's justifiably famous, thanks particularly to Luciano Pavarotti late in the last century.

But the first aria in "I Pagliacci" is unique, at least in my experience. After the orchestra overture, it's a vocal overture -- the baritone comes out on stage alone and narrates what's going to happen.  My 45 RPM record of The Prologue (you could hear the capital letters when my father spoke of it), sung by Leonard Warren, is one of my treasures. For those who don't believe it's possible to sing an overture, here is a link to a  YouTube film of Warren doing just that.

The experience of seeing that film has me thinking of other near-synonyms: incomparable, magnificent, wondrous... well, I could list them for ages. Operatic music will do that to me, expanding my vocabulary and reminding me of translations and new vocabulary alike. It's Serious stuff... did you expect any less?

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Filed under: Music and language

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  • My near-synonym in opera is mezzo-soprano or contralto. I know that the range of the latter is supposed to be lower, but when I hear either of them sing, I don't know which I am supposed to be hearing.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    The contralto is the one who says on commercials "How do you get the compensation you deserve? You choose the right legal team."

  • In reply to jack:

    Contraltos do have attention-getting vocal ranges, Jack. Thanks.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    As a onetime soprano who's losing some high notes, I am beginning to understand this a bit more. "Mezzo" is Italian for "middle," so as I lose the high notes, I'm heading more for the middle range, coming closer to mezzo. Contraltos are a bit rarer.

  • Having been in publishing,the second pair omits Foreword, about which an editor once pointed out to me was not Forward.

    There's also the "What's Opera Doc" version, but that wouldn't be Serious..

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you for bring Foreword forward, so to speak. As for "What's Opera, Doc?," that has both German and Italian opera -- and I love it, especially since the time I heard the radio in the dry cleaner's start playing something familiar I couldn't quite place. Sure enough, someone else thought of it as the music went on and started singing along -- "Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit!" -- and the line in the shop wen't nuts. If I hadn't been laughing so hard, I'd have been able to say "Be vewy quiet!"

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Thus, it wasn't as irrelevant or irreverent as I initially thought.

  • In reply to jack:

    It was not irrelevant at all, and irreverence in this case is fine with me.

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