Engelbrecht transforms orchestra into piano

09 June 2008

When Lisa Engelbrecht began singing and playing piano as a child, little did she realise that she would be setting out on a career that would see her travelling far and wide. She has worked and studied in the UK, France, Italy and the US, and after her return to South Africa, she decided to do doctoral studies, in which she focused on her interests: the piano and opera.

Now she's completed her PhD in music by performance and thesis, the latter component of which is titled The Operatic Piano Reduction as an Art Form: a critical evaluation.

An operatic piano reduction is an arrangement for piano of the full orchestral score of an opera, Engelbrecht explains. There is a perception that the piano reduction is merely a stopgap for the full score and cannot truly represent its essence.

Engelbrecht, a vocal coach for Cape Town Opera and the UCT Opera School, said the idea was to establish whether the piano reduction was able to stand on its own terms artistically, and whether it was possible to formulate a set of principles or guidelines applicable to the performance of piano reductions.

"Many piano reductions are haphazardly arranged and are often carelessly performed," she says. "I wanted to show that it is possible to produce piano reductions which are artistically sound and which, when properly performed, faithfully reflect the full orchestral score."

Her study analyses reductions of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Verdi's Rigoletto, Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, as well as Huyssen's Masque.

The results? "You can play the piano orchestrally, and the operatic piano reduction can indeed stand on its own terms artistically," she concludes.

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