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Overture to the opera Tancredi
by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)

Peter and the Wolf
A Musical Tale for Children
words and music by Sergei Prokofiev
Steve Moretti narrator

Every opera that Rossini wrote is introduced by an exciting and lively overture. Tancredi is a dramatic love story set a thousand years ago, with a king, a princess, an exiled prince, a war, and lots of confusion before it reaches one of two endings (in one version Tancredi is made king, in the other he dies). But you don’t need to know any of this to enjoy Rossini’s music, which is designed solely to grab your attention and please your ears.

Rossini is best-known for his sparkling, witty operas, composed in the first part of the 19th century – The Barber of Seville is the one that’s staged most often. But even if you’ve never set foot in an opera theater, you’ve almost certainly heard some of the overtures that he wrote for these operas. Some have become staples in the concert hall, played as “curtain raisers” by orchestras all over the world, but the real source of Rossini’s popular fame in modern times is Bugs Bunny. Thanks to those classic cartoons, some of Rossini’s greatest tunes became known outside the world of classical music: the William Tell overture with its “Lone Ranger” finale, the “Largo al factotem” aria and the overture from The Barber of Seville, and the overture to The Thieving Magpie. (Carl Stalling was the genius composer and arranger behind most of these cartoons.) Watch some of the classics here.

Speaking of thieving magpies, Rossini was something of one himself – or perhaps it would be fairer to describe him as a model recycler. He wrote nearly forty operas during his career, but only 26 overtures, which means that he often reused an overture from a previous opera. The overture to Tancredi, for example, was originally composed for La pietra del paragone in 1812. This means that the music of the overture has nothing to do with the opera that follows – its real purpose is to seize your attention and whet your appetite for the evening’s entertainment, and with its dramatic opening and lively themes, the Tancredi overture certainly does that!


Peter and the Wolf is a musical fairytale. We won’t spoil the story by telling you what happens. But we will tell you who the characters are, and which instruments in the orchestra play their parts:

Peter ............................... the strings
The bird .......................... a flute
The duck ......................... an oboe
The cat ............................ a clarinet
Grandfather .................... a bassoon
The wolf .......................... three horns
The hunters’ rifles ........ timpani

Peter and the Wolf isn’t an opera (there’s no singing) and it isn’t a ballet (although it can be performed that way); nor is it a play (there are no actors). Instead it’s a musical tale in which the orchestra tells the story, helped along by a narrator.

Prokofiev wrote Peter and the Wolf at the invitation of Natalia Satz, the director of the Moscow Children’s Theatre, who gave him the idea of composing music that would entertain, but which would also help children get to know the instruments of the orchestra. So this fantastic tale with its charming music has an ulterior motive.

Each character in Prokofiev’s musical fairytale is represented by a different instrument of the orchestra: the bird by a twittering flute,          the cat by a mellifluous clarinet,       Peter’s grumpy grandfather by a bassoon,       the dreaded wolf by three horns,       and Peter by all the strings of the orchestra playing a jaunty march tune       . The timpani (or “kettledrums”) have their part to play when the hunters turn up, shooting their rifles.      

Peter and the Wolf was an immediate success with the toughest critics of all: children. Prokofiev wrote the story himself and, since he had two sons of his own, he knew how to capture the childish imagination by making Peter a bold but rebellious hero: “Peter paid no attention to his grandfather. Boys like him are not afraid of wolves.”

Teacher and Parent Resources for Peter and the Wolf

Yvonne Frindle ©2010
Composer portraits by Charles Krenner

Audio credits

Musical examples for Peter and the Wolf were taken from the following recording:

Prokofiev’s Music for Children (New London Orchestra/Ronald Corp, with narration from Oleg and Gabriel Prokofiev)