A repetiteur can be a fulfilling and immensely satisfying job. Repetiteur, accompanist and teacher Kevin Thraves has enjoyed a highly successful career, and here he writes an illuminating article on the prerequisites of this demanding role.
As Head of Music Staff in the School of Vocal Studies and Opera at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, one of my main responsibilities is to oversee and tutor the postgraduate repetiteur students.
Many concert pianists, accompanists and piano teachers often do not know what the job of an operatic repetiteur actually entails. Even regular audience members who attend the opera might not fully appreciate what the job of a repetiteur actually involves. There is little information and practical advice available regarding the training and the skills required to work as a repetiteur, and many musicians do not fully realise that the role of a repetiteur is one of the most varied, enjoyable and gratifying areas of all musical activity.
A repetiteur is a highly skilled pianist whose main work generally takes place in a rehearsal studio of an opera house. Requiring a broad range of performance and musicianship skills, an operatic repetiteur not only needs to have a solid and confident keyboard technique (enabling them to play the most complicated operatic scores), but they also require a good working knowledge and have the confidence to coach singers in a variety of languages – English, Italian, German and French (and sometimes Russian and Czech). A repetiteur is required to offer historically correct instruction in musical style during the rehearsal or vocal coaching process, correct musical and linguistic inaccuracies and often has to assist the conductor by taking notes on their behalf during the stage and orchestra rehearsals.
Repetiteurs are often required to play other keyboard instruments in rehearsals and performances, such as the harpsichord, fortepiano or celeste. They also need excellent sight-reading skills, and, more importantly, the skill to be able to learn music quickly with a good understanding of the full orchestral score they are required to play. It is not a career for concert pianists who are perhaps interested in public recognition and fame, but it is one of the most rewarding for those pianists who enjoy being involved in collaborative work with a dynamic and creative team, often working alongside more than one hundred people at a time. Repetiteurs need robust teaching principles and the skills to impart the necessary musical coaching, training and directional aspects of their job. They also need agreeable communication and interpersonal skills, patience, and the ability to stay calm in pressured environments.
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