The paper reports a study of masterclasses for young opera-singers, taught by experienced, world-class singers. These and similar forms of learning in the creative and performing arts represent fertile opportunities for the investigation of pedagogy. Given the recent ‘performative’ turn in sociological studies of education, and of cultural forms more widely, it is especially pertinent to examine the work of pedagogy in an overtly performative context. The operatic masterclass is made possible by the embodied authority of the teacher, and by her or his charismatic authority. The masterclass itself is marked by repetition, attention to technical detail, and to interpretative flexibility. Expertise is shared through gesture, metaphor, demonstration and personal maxims. Technical and interpretative knowledge are synthesised through the teacher’s personal authority. These processes illustrate the communities of pedagogy associated with artistic communities of practice.