Blog

A word from our directors about the lead up to Christmas and our plans for 2019

  • Posted on: 9 October 2018
  • By: Dorothy Withers

On Saturday 15th September we presented a concert called ‘Spirit of Opera’ in Holy Trinity Church as the opening event in the Hurstpierpoint Festival. There was a large and very appreciative audience and in my humble opinion we gave one of our best concerts for a long time despite some of our singers being hit with last minute illness or work commitments. With the aid of our regular accompanist Tim Nail, plus the Heber ensemble, everyone brought on their ‘A’ game and there has been a lot of really good feedback from people in the audience, so to everyone concerned I would like to say thank you and a huge “Bravo”.

Looking ahead to the festive season, we are about to start rehearsing for our short programme at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion in December plus brushing up our carols for the annual session for the Bluebell Railway.

A short break to cook the turkey and stuff ourselves with plum pudding etc and then with the ink scarcely dry on the Happy New Year cards we will start rehearsals on the first Sunday in January for our May production.

As hinted at in our previous missive and as you will have seen from Chrissie’s recent blog on how she created her poster images, next year we will be presenting ‘Norma’ by Bellini and are delighted that Veronica Brooks will be singing the title role. Joining her will be Michele Restieux who was our Giovanna/Maddalena in Rigoletto together with Bethan Jackson who sang so beautifully in our recent concert; and returning to us after a short break for initiation into fatherhood is Steve Hawksley who was our wonderful Mephistopheles in 2017’s ‘Faust’. Sadly Tim Crouch is unable to take the tenor lead due to a heavy work schedule and so we are currently looking for a suitably experienced singer to take the role of Pollione (Norma’s secret and wayward lover). Our cast will be completed by Nicholas Forrest who will bring his lovely voice and huge experience to the role of Flavio.

‘Norma’ is a beautiful opera which these days is not performed very often – it is from the ‘bel canto’ genre and is a very demanding sing for the two female leads but Veronica & Michele certainly have the vocal expertise to do it justice.

The action is set against a backdrop of Celtic/Druidic mysticism in ancient Gaul (present day France/Belgium). Norma is their revered Druid priestess but with her people chafing to be free of Roman oppression, she risks all by conducting a secret relationship with the governing Roman Consul.

The story unfolds dramatically with forbidden love and infidelity turning to hatred and thoughts of revenge – finally culminating in a sacrifice of atonement.

So…there is scope for a lot of varied drama along the way which we hope to bring out resulting in an exciting and moving production and of course ‘Norma’ includes one of the most famous of all soprano arias ‘Casta Diva’.

Do keep an eye on the website and we will update you as rehearsals get underway and let you know how things are coming along.

Tickets will go on sale in February and our venue dates are as follows:

Sat 18 May 2019

King Edward Hall, Lindfield

7:30 pm
Sun 19 May 2019

Uckfield Centre

6:00 pm
     
Fri 24th May 2019

Adastra Hall, Hassocks

7:30 pm
Sat 25th May 2019

Steyning Centre

7:30 pm
Sun 26th May 2019

Village Centre Hurstpierpoint

6:00 pm

NB: A couple of important notes re tickets:

  • We have had to make a slight increase to ticket prices (our first increase for at least 4 years) to keep pace with the rise in our overall costs. Reserved tickets will now be £15 and unreserved £13. We do try to accommodate audience members with mobility or sight problems but please let us have any relevant information at the time of initial booking to avoid possible problems on the day.
  • Finally a word of caution - one lady who wanted to see Rigoletto was very upset not to be able to get a seat at her chosen venue due to a sell out. BUT she had left it till the very last minute to book and did not believe the venue was sold out assuming there would be tickets on the door. Regrettably we can no longer just ‘squeeze people in’ when all the seats are taken because we do have to be careful about fire regulations, health and safety etc. So please ensure you book early to avoid disappointment.

All good wishes and as always, thank you so much for continuing to support us – we couldn’t do it without you.

Michael & Dorothy Withers

FINDING NORMA

  • Posted on: 25 September 2018
  • By: Chrissie Berridge

Chrissie Berridge explains how she came up with the design for Heber’s 2019 major production

I designed the poster for Heber Opera’s Rusalka in 2015 and have continued for each major production, plus their concert performances. I have developed a good eye for layout thanks to my time working in the publishing industry. For 14 years I was the editor for The Dolls’ House magazine. Creating a front cover design for the magazine was very similar to creating a poster for a musical production - working with images and words to both engage attention and get results!

Preparing for Heber Opera’s 2019’s production of Bellini’s opera, Norma, directors Dorothy and Michael Withers already had some ideas about how the poster should look. In an email they explained that they were after an ethereal image, maybe with Celtic and Roman references, possibly some blood (it is a tragedy after all). My design needed to interpret their vision.

Image and words

My starting point was to find the main image, the choice of which for any poster is crucial. It has to be striking enough to draw the eye, but not so complicated that positioned text is obscured or can't be read. I began by looking though my portfolio of photographs. Amongst these I found a classical statue of a female head that I thought might be a contender. I experimented with the image, overlaying it with a photograph of a Roman mosaic, positioning it in a plain background. I thought about the ‘blood’ element, but decided against it as I’d already referenced it in 2018’s Rigoletto. I wanted the Norma poster to be suitably distinct from previous productions.

 

Norma - Roman
An early idea using a classical statue with a mosaic overlay

Looking for an alternative I chose a painting by my sister, Paula Wrightson. Over the years Paula has produced a large body of work both painted and photographs. One painting in particular was of a confident Medusa-haired woman draped in a garment with stylised banding. I knew that the snake hair wouldn’t be appropriate but the rest of the picture had potential.

Medusa
The original Medusa painting by Paula Wrightson

Aside from the main image and title the Norma poster had to include information on dates, venues, prices and booking details, Heber’s logo, plus those all important social media contacts. These can be positioned on top, underneath or to the side of the base image. The font and point size make a difference too. So I spent a lot of time working on all these elements to find a best fit with each of my chosen images. It was then down to Dorothy and Michael for their thoughts on my initial designs.

The eyes have it!

After considering the designs, I was asked to concentrate on the portrait and discard the statue. One of the problems though with the painting was the dark eye area. They looked too dark without any real definition, could I rectify this? Back at my computer I played around with the eye area, working with a second image of real eyes overlaid and blended in to add clarity.

Following a conversation with Paula about my poster designs she sent me a photograph of herself, wearing an ivy circlet. It looked akin to an inspirational image that Dorothy had sent alongside her initial feedback. The photograph had been taken around the same time that the original Medusa was painted. The new image had clear eye contact with the viewer and was certainly ethereal. Could this photo replace the painting in a revised design?

I created a new interpretation using the text as already laid out. The new photo looked great, with a strong image and clear text, but there was a niggling doubt in my head. Would the audience expect to see this woman (Paula) as ‘Norma’ in our production? I didn’t want the image to be misleading. I knew that I had to go back to the Medusa painting and those troublesome eyes.

Medusa
Experimenting with the eye area and altering the colours of the painting

Result

Suddenly I had an idea - rather than try and make the eyes fit the design, I decided to avoid them altogether. I cropped the image further and there she was – Norma! By ignoring the eyes, the focus transferred to the lips. As a viewer we are waiting for those lips to open – the woman’s story to be revealed, just as it will be in the opera. Not seeing the whole face retained an air of mystery about the woman herself. With the added bonus of highlighting the stylised Celtic banding on the cloth and the Roman shield motif, the design was in the bag!

Christmas Greetings to all our Supporters!

  • Posted on: 19 December 2017
  • By: Dorothy Withers

To all our loyal supporters and followers………………

It’s that time of year again when we look back at what has been achieved over the past 12 months or so and let you know our plans for the coming year.

Pavilion

When we set out in 2016 to present Pearl Fishers, we were not sure what the future might hold for Heber Opera but, due to the success of that production and thanks to the enthusiasm of our regular principals and chorus we moved ahead this year with plans for FAUST. Audiences were slightly down on the previous year but those who came were bowled over by our production and we received really good feedback on the standard of vocal and dramatic performance so everyone involved please take a well-deserved bow.

As well as FAUST in May, we presented two Tea Concerts in November, have recently given a pre-dinner Christmas entertainment at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion ( having been asked back again after last year) and are currently in the middle of our regular carol singing engagement for The Bluebell Railway.

The management team continue to meet regularly and discuss the usual things such as publicity, fundraising and of course recruitment. It is fair to say that most of us in the company are heading for (or have already hit) retirement so looking ahead we really could do with some new blood to ensure Heber Opera has a viable future. We have been delighted to welcome a few newcomers recently, Cynthia Davies, Jenny Duvall, Bridget Stevenson, Francesco Purpura, Daria Robertson and Christopher Williams, and hopefully they have enjoyed the experience so far. Personally, I think we are a very welcoming company and the least “stuffy” group of people I know so hopefully we will attract a few more additions to our ranks in the coming months.

A brief word here about funding – everything we put on whether it be a concert or full production is self funded. We get no grants whatsoever and whilst we pare costs down to the bone as much as we can, putting together a production runs into several thousands of pounds. Each member of the cast pays an individual show “fee” to take part, plus a small weekly subscription which helps cover the costs of rehearsals. Throughout the year our treasurer (the indefatigable Jenny Letton) organises Craft Fayres and Tea Concerts and Jon Gardner ensures profitable raffles at each and every performance. These are all valuable sources of fund raising so if you have supported any Heber events throughout the year you will have helped keep us “in the black”. Thank you Jenny and Jon plus everyone who helped with fund raising events over the past year.

As you may have seen from the website we are looking ahead to 2018 with plans to present Verdi’s RIGOLETTO. This will be an exciting production and although usually very much geared to being a male dominated show, we will be including our ladies in all the chorus work. Our principals are all signed up and raring to go and most of them have already started preparations for the first rehearsal in January. Once again we are delighted to have the creative input of Pitch Black Lighting . Mark and Natalie’s team has a huge impact on how a show looks and we are really looking forward to working with them on Rigoletto. Watch this space for regular updates on how things are going once rehearsals get underway.

So..all that’s left is to say a big thank you for continuing to support us and we look forward to seeing you all at Rigoletto in May 2018.

With sincere good wishes for Christmas and the New Year from all at “Heber Opera”.

Paper to Wood

  • Posted on: 11 May 2017
  • By: Jan Barger Cohen

This is the fun part, painting my design. I've primed the wood and painted the black areas with enamel. After some colour tests I've decided to use acrylic paints for the rest of the sign - my brief is for it to be gold on black, but I've added some blue and red. Nearly finished! The calf's eyes seem to stare at me as I work.

Paper to Wood

Dropping in to Rehearsals

  • Posted on: 9 May 2017
  • By: Chrissie Berridge

Pavilion

It was all go when I dropped in to last night’s rehearsals for Heber Opera’s production of Faust. The evening carried all of the usual hallmarks – a Director with a critical eye, a Musical Director with a critical ear, a patient pianist, a chorus with pockets full of crib sheets, and principals gamely playing to an invisible audience. Add a smattering of props and costume, and a lighting technician getting the gist of it all, it was all running to plan./p>

Pavilion

I’ve spent the last 20 years working backstage on over 80 shows, and I’ve seen a lot of rehearsals in that time. I always enjoy these last few sessions when show-time is just over the horizon. Though I'm sure for cast at crew it all must seem horribly close to curtain up it should fuel the necessary adrenaline. These run-throughs are the skeleton to the fully fleshed production that the audience gets to see. The Director nips and tucks it all to perfection or as close as possible! With just under a month to go Faust is coming together. Watching I got those shivers of excitement as the story unfolded. You can’t beat the power of the voice and the music, particularly with opera. There is a little more tweaking to go yet, after all the Devil is in the detail!

Pavilion

Lines & Letters

  • Posted on: 27 April 2017
  • By: Jan Barger Cohen
Thinking with Pencil

To get my angles and lines and curves right I have drawn a more precise sketch on A4 graph paper, which I will enlarge to A1 and use as my guide when working on the wood. Drawing the letters on a curve is challenging - even though I was once a professional calligrapher, I expect the letters to be the hardest part. I've based my lettering on the Albertus font, which was in use in the 1940s when our production of Faust takes place.

Gounod's "Faust" - The Background

  • Posted on: 23 April 2017
  • By: Michael Withers

Taking a break from preparing the reduced orchestration for Faust I’ve been giving some thought to the background to the opera.

Charles Gounod had ambitions to compose an opera based on the Faust legend as early as the 1840s but it took a meeting with the well-established opera librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré in 1855 to crystallise the idea.

Charles Gounod 1859

Carré had already written a three-act play based on Goethe’s Faust, called Faust et Marguerite and it was this work that provided the basis for Gounod’s opera.

The opera was commissioned by Léon Carvalho the manager of the Théâtre-Lyrique with the proviso that his wife Caroline Carvalho would sing the role of Marguerite. Gounod finished writing the music in the autumn of 1858 and it immediately went into what turned out to be a very challenging rehearsal period.

The score that Gounod delivered contained far too much music for a normal evening at the opera so the rehearsals involved cutting many of the numbers and rearranging others to different places in the story. In all, about a quarter of the music Gounod wrote had been cut by the first performance. That wasn’t the end of the rehearsal issues; by the early dress rehearsal it had become clear that the tenor allocated to sing Faust wasn’t able to cope with the part and a replacement was brought in with only three weeks’ notice.

Théâtre Lyrique

In spite of the difficulties in rehearsal, the first run at the Théâtre Lyrique was successful and the work was soon touring in Germany, Italy, Belgium and England. When it was revived in Paris in 1862 it was a hit and, ironically, Gounod had to write extra music so that a ballet could be added as required by the Paris Opéra. The opera remains one of the most frequently performed operas across the globe.

The Faust story is best known from its retelling by Goethe but it is based on an older tales dating back to the fifteenth century.

The models for Faustus might have included Johann Fust, who was also Johann Gutenburg’s business partner, and Johann Georg Faust, an itinerant German alchemist, astrologer and magician, although there are many earlier legends about making a pact with the devil.

The first play based on the Faust legend was probably Christopher Marlow’s Doctor Faustus which was first performed around 1590.

The first opera based on the legend was Faust by Louis Spohr, written in 1816, and the most recent is probably Doctor Atomic by the American composer John Adams, which presents Robert Oppenheimer as a 20th century ‘Faust’. The Faust legend has been used by writers and dramatists as diverse as, Stephen King, Oscar Wilde, Alexander Pushkin, W.S. Gilbert and Terry Pratchett.

To book tickets please click here.

Thinking with Pencil

  • Posted on: 12 April 2017
  • By: Jan Barger Cohen
Thinking with Pencil

I have drawn my pencil sketch (on A5 paper) for the Golden Calf pub sign. I don't usually make thumbnails or lots of sketches because I generally 'see' a picture in my mind and then put that down on paper.

Here are some thoughts that went into my design:

  • Want it to look like a proper pub sign
  • Want the calf facing out, not in profile
  • I'll put the lettering at the top as an integral part of the design
  • The Golden Calf comes from the biblical story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. A tablet shaped arch around the calf will both hint at that and make the design more interesting.

Craft Fair Crafts

  • Posted on: 5 April 2017
  • By: Jan Barger Cohen

Before I get too involved with the Golden Calf sign, I am finishing preparations for my table at the Heber Craft Fair on April 8th.

Craft Fair Crafts

I'll be displaying mostly brooches, pin cushions and handmade greetings cards. These have been great fun to design and make, but I need to spend some time now planning my display. I'm fairly new at this (I've spent most of my artistic career illustrating children's picture books) and I have been touched by how generous more experienced exhibitors have been with their tips and help on the day. In the meantime I'll be thinking about the Golden Calf sign - mentally sketching in a way.

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