Phoebe Briggs, who will conduct Inverell’s Opera in the Paddock concert on March 24, is not exactly a country girl, but does live on three acres 25 km north east of Melbourne. She says she is looking forward to the Paddock experience, the beauty of the setting and working with “a lovely group of singers and musicians”.
When Opera Australia approached Phoebe Briggs to be guest conductor at this year’s Opera in the Paddock, her first response was surprise, quickly supplanted with “Why not?”.
That ‘why not’ approach has served her well and launched the well known Melbourne repetiteur into a dual career both in musical theatre and opera.
She says her first venture as a conductor came out of the blue when a friend, conductor Stephen Gray, asked her to be his assistant in the Melbourne production of Guys and Dolls in 2008.
“I was a bit hesitant about accepting, but again I thought, ‘why not?’ and ended up conducting 25 shows in Melbourne … and I loved it,” she recalls. “The music is fabulous, and it has become one of my favourites.”
As a repetiteur, it’s important to be able to conduct from the piano when necessary, but it’s another thing altogether to stand up in front of an orchestra and singers as a conductor, she explains.
Her most daunting moment was in the orchestra pit for the first time waiting for the red light to turn green, signalling the start of the performance.
“I have to say I was terrified, and then I thought, ‘here goes’ … and although it was scary, I really enjoyed it.”
Briggs took a few months leave from Opera Australia for the run of the musical and when she returned, her new boss told her he had decided to ‘pop her in’ as a cover conductor for understudy rehearsals of one of the operas she was working on.
“Both opera and music theatre present challenges to a conductor, whether it be setting the right speed for a tricky dance sequence or negotiating an awkward phrase for a singer and giving them space to breathe,” she says.
She says her closest experience of performing in the country was a tour of The Barber of Seville to Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, where the troupe played to outback audiences in barns and basketball courts, amongst other venues.
“I know the Opera in the Paddock audience comes from far and wide, and I’m really looking forward to the experience and the challenge,” she says. “I’ve done quite a number of outdoor gigs as a player.”
She will conduct rehearsals with singers in Sydney and then more intense sessions on the Mimosa stage prior to the concert on Saturday, March 24.
“I like the program,” she says. “Peta and I tweaked it a bit when we met, and I feel good about it. It is challenging to work across so many different styles, but that is what makes it so interesting and exciting.”
Briggs holds a Bachelor Music from the Melbourne University and worked as a coach at the Sydney Conservatorium. She won the Foster Memorial Award for a Repetiteur in 1995. She has worked overseas as well as with the Victorian Opera, the Sydney Chamber Made Opera and Opera Australia, where she has been a member of staff since 2002.
Her repertoire includes Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Manon
Lescaut, La Bohème, Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, La Clemenza di Tito, L’Elisir d’Amore, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Orpheus in the Underworld, Madeline Lee, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Little Night Music, The Gondoliers, Iolanthe, The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, Sweeney Todd, Orlando, Julius Caesar, Alcina, Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, Dido and Aeneas, Faust, Carmen, La Cenerentola, The Merry Widow, Romeo and Juliet, Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Un Ballo in Maschera, Trial by Jury, The Pearl Fishers, The Tales of Hoffmann, Acis and Galatea, Lindy, Die Fledermaus, Lakme and Of Mice and Men.
Opera North West Ltd acknowledges the support of Arts NSW, Destination NSW, Opera Australia, Inverell Shire Council, NAB, Regional ABC, Essential Energy, Malachite Resources and the German Consul.
Bookings online www.operainthepaddock.com.au /ph 1800 240 301 and Inverell Visitors Centre ph 1800 067 626. Coaches will run from most regional centres.