When you’re first starting out with opera productions, it’s useful to have a template of what is expected, both regarding preparation before the production and how things operate during the rehearsal. Kevin Class’ Opera Guidelines – A few helpful tips for opera pianists and singers is one of the best and most succinct guides I’ve seen. On the pianist’s preparation before the first rehearsal:
With rehearsal time always at a minimum, the coaching or rehearsals are not the place for the pianist to be learning his/her score. When coaching singers individually, the pianist is solely responsible for progress in the rehearsal as there will usually be no conductor (or anyone else) present. The pianist’s job is correcting all pitches, rhythms, text and diction. Moreover, it is the pianist’s responsibility to make sure the singer has thoroughly studied the character and made strong musical decisions based on their decisions of character. Since the pianist will, in fact, lead the singer through all facets of preparation (technical, dramatic and musical), the pianist must have a complete knowledge of the score, the language, the libretto, the characters, the performance traditions AND be able to play the score and sing all parts with perfection BEFORE meeting for the very first rehearsal.
On the rehearsal process:
Since the pianist is expected to be able to follow a conductor, play the score with great security and virtuosity (sounding like the world’s greatest orchestra) and catch all mistakes the singers are making in pitch, rhythm, text and diction and be able to sing any missing vocal parts when necessary (while continuing to play), the pianist must then be the most prepared of anyone in the room.
Kevin’s rundown of the learning process for singers learning operatic roles is first-rate, and he emphasizes the responsibility of the pianist/coach to guide them through it.
Kevin Class is the Director of the Collaborative Piano program and Music Director of the Opera Theatre at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. I knew Kevin for a short time when we studied at the Holland Music Sessions in the Netherlands back in the 90’s. His performance of the Elliott Carter Piano Sonata that summer was highly memorable, and I still remember it after the passage of several decades.