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Beyond the Lone Ranger: Rossini's 'William Tell'

William Tell may not be Gioachino Rossini's most famous opera, but it does have at least two tunes that rank among the most familiar music ever composed.

Plenty of operas can boast of a single melody that has become more famous than the opera itself — the sort of tune that people recognize as something from an opera, even if they have no idea which opera it is.

Then there are tunes that might be called operatic escapees — melodies heard so often, and in so many places, that they've earned a life of their own, independent of the operas for which they were created, to the point that they're barely associated with opera at all.

One example of such an escapee is the wistfully beautiful "Flower Duet" from Leo Delibes' opera Lakme — famous from, among many other places, a recent British Airways advertisement. It's entirely possible that most of those who recognize the tune have never even heard of Delibes.

Then there's the "Dance of the Hours," familiar to millions from the sublimely ridiculous hippo ballet in Disney's Fantasia, and from Allan Sherman's pop hit, "Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda." But how many among those millions know about its real home, in Amilcare Ponchielli's opera La Gioconda?

And that brings us to William Tell. The opera, as a whole, isn't heard all that often. But its overture alone features two melodies that broke free of their operatic origins. In the overture's quiet middle section, there's a simple theme that has backed up enough pastoral scenes to have become a sort of musical cliché. Right on the heels of that tune comes one of the most famous musical passages of all time: the melody that galloped into radio and TV history as the theme to The Lone Ranger. Just think "Hi, ho Silver, away!" and the tune will likely pop into your mind at the same time.

But there's no need to stop with the overture. On this edition of World of Opera, from the Maggio Musicale in Florence, host presents a complete performance of William Tell, a musically spectacular opera that more than lives up to its inspiring curtain-raiser. Antonio Pappano conducts, with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Santa Cecilia Academy.

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