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Jeremy Nicholas throws light on the hidden art of the répétiteur, first-rate pianists and all-round communicators who perform a vital but often unacknowledged role in the opera house

Rhinegold LIVE

National Opera Studio répétiteurs (l-r) Killian Farrell, Iwan Teifion Davies, Edmund Whitehead and Frederick Brown

Can you name a famous répétiteur? Not the ones who have gone on to become celebrated conductors – the likes of Bruno Walter, Josef Krips, Georg Solti and Antonio Pappano. Think of a famous répétiteur currently working in one of the world’s major opera houses. You can’t? That’s because there are none. This is a profession that hides away from the view of the public, practitioners known only to the backstage world of opera. Which is ironic, because if you consider the serious talent required to be a ‘rep’ (as they are known in the business), you might think that some of them would be stars in their own right.

So what exactly does an opera répétiteur do? They play for rehearsals in an opera house; they have to play an entire opera score in a piano reduction; and they are sort of accompanists – but not exactly. The world of the répétiteur, and the kinds of people it attracts, can seem like a well-kept secret, so to discover more, I visited the National Opera Studio (NOS) in a converted chapel tucked away off Wandsworth High Street in South London.

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About Opera Now

British soprano Sophie Bevan discusses her starring role in a new opera at ENO; exploring the hidden art of the répétiteur; traditional craftsmanship meets contemporary design at Oman’s Royal Opera House Muscat; and Cardiff prepares to crown the Singer of the World. Plus, our pick of this year’s top singing competitions around the world; English Touring Opera proves that learning about opera can be educational and fun; American baritone and movie star Nelson Eddy; Simon Callow’s Wagnerian triumph; and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s legendary recordings.