DSO Conversations: Phoebe Briggs
Phoebe Briggs is Head of Music at Victorian Opera. She is a repetiteur (opera tutor or coach), pianist and conductor who has worked for Victorian Opera, Opera Australia and other major companies. As a pianist, she has appeared in concert in Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Japan. DSO is delighted Phoebe will be joining the orchestra as guest pianist for Carnival of the Animals and that she will be joining Artistic Director/Chief Conductor Jonathan Tooby and Concertmaster Tara Murphy for an intimate afternoon of beautiful music in Seasonal Reflections. We caught up with Phoebe and chatted to her about her upcoming DSO performances, what exactly being a repetiteur entails, and more.
Can you tell us what a typical day as Head of Music at Victorian Opera looks like?
A typical day could include coaching singers, playing for production rehearsals, preparing or sourcing orchestral parts, booking freelance players for upcoming productions, recording music for singers, backstage conducting, taking notes for singers and conductors in stage rehearsals, playing in an orchestra, admin… or any of the above!
You are also a repetiteur and conductor of opera. What do you find is the most rewarding aspect of conducting opera?
Oh, the thrill of when it all comes together beautifully – gorgeous singing, superb orchestral playing, great production on stage.. there’s nothing quite like it!
And can you tell us a bit about what being a repetiteur entails? Sounds fascinating!
A repetiteur is a pianist who works with singers (or ballet dancers) to help prepare a role. As operatic repetiteurs we coach singers in all aspects of a role- music, language, phrasing and style. A repetiteur plays the piano reduction of an orchestral score so it’s important to know what the instrumentation is and how the work sounds, so that you can play ‘like an orchestra’ as much as possible in the rehearsal room. A repetiteur replaces the orchestra in the 3-4 weeks of production rehearsals that occur before the orchestra joins in the final stages as the work comes to the stage. The repetiteur often plays any keyboard instrument (piano, harpsichord, organ, celesta) that is in the orchestra.
As a pianist, you play both in orchestras and in smaller ensembles. What excites you about these different forms?
I love both playing as an orchestral pianist, being part of a huge ensemble, and also playing chamber music where communication is key, and you’re responding immediately to the other players and breathing together as one.
What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming DSO concert Seasonal Reflections?
All the repertoire! The Mendelssohn is an old favourite which will be great to revisit, the Piazzolla is exciting and theatrical and the solo cello work so peaceful and calming. It will be so wonderful to play with Tara and Jonathan.
Which movement of Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals is your favourite? Which animal do you relate to most?
Which animal? I still love the Swan! But ooh, it really depends on the day… sometimes I feel like a tortoise wanting to can-can but travelling very slowly! I love the floaty peacefulness of The Aquarium, the silliness of The Elephant, the soaring beauty of The Aviary and the simplicity of The Cuckoo. I think my childhood favourite was The Fossils.
What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to Lorelei – our production that I’m conducting at the moment in Brisbane. Music by Julian Langdon, lyrics by Casey Bennetto and Gillian Cosgriff, performed by three powerhouse singers: Dimity Shepherd, Ali McGregor and Antoinette Halloran and accompanied by an ensemble of 12 from the wonderful QSO playing up a storm!