The conductor, the opera house, and the making of a Maestro
: a study in the transference of skill, insight, and aesthetic along the répétiteur-to-conductor continuum

  • John Yaffe'

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is an inquiry into the profile of the lyric theatre conductor, in particular the conductor whose early professional training and experience have been along the time -honoured répétiteur – to – conductor continuum in the repertory opera house, a path trodden by many conductors throughout the past two centuries. The study is an examination of (a) the requirements of the position of Répétiteur, (b) the skills, knowledge, and insight garnered in the course of that activity, (c) the ways in which this transfers organically to the young musical leader's subsequent work as a lyric theatre conductor, and (d) the component skills and qualities that, in this sector of musical performance, constitute the complete artistic profile of the musical leader commonly referred to as 'the maestro'.

While literature on conducting per se is ubiquitous, mention of the above phenomenon is not; it is scattered across many monographs, essay collections, articles, and interviews; and there exists only one book (in German) that focuses exclusively on the opera conductor. None of these, however, examines the répétiteur's work — so deeply embedded in that of the opera conductor — as the source of the artistic skill and ethos embodied in the work of the dedicated lyric theatre maestro. Thus, this study is the first of its kind: an extensive qualitative study, conducted by a practicing professional conductor, based on one-to-one interviews with twelve of his internationally acclaimed opera conductor colleagues, representing a span of ages, genders, and nationalities, exploring a phenomenon never before illuminated in existing literature, and utilizing a narrative research approach in both its methods and its presentation.

Analysis of the study’s interview transcripts revealed a set of themes considered key in defining the profile of the lyric theatre conductor. Those themes are discussed individually and holistically by the author, and subsequently reconciled with related statements in the literature. The narrative of this study tracks the development of the young musical leader through his 'apprenticeship' as répétiteur, the transition to his new role as conductor (and the new areas of consideration brought by that role), and, ultimately, examines the rich complex of technical, artistic, and personal dimensions of the fully mature maestro. The result is an authentic composite profile of this unique subset of conductors. It can be considered a signpost towards the profession of lyric theatre conductor; a blueprint for the reevaluation of conductor training; and an in-depth exposé on this significant musical figure.
Date of AwardJun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorTom Williams (Supervisor) & Natalie Garrett Brown (Supervisor)

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