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.


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


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>


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!


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.

Images & Inspirations

  • Posted on: 31 March 2017
  • By: Jan Barger Cohen

Rehearsals are going well for our May production of Faust. Cast and crew not only have music and moves to learn - we also have costumes and props to assemble.

Images and Inspiration

In a leap of faith (as I rarely do any large-scale work as an artist or work on wood) I have volunteered to paint an A1-sized sign for our on-stage pub, The Golden Calf (where the chorus seem to spend a lot of time!) and blog about my progress. I'll get my inspiration from images of cows and pub signs, then let ideas bounce around in my head until I know how I want to proceed with the design.

Merry Christmas and thank-you for a wonderful 2016!

  • Posted on: 18 December 2016
  • By: Dorothy Withers

Dear Supporters of Heber Opera,

As we approach the end of our first year under “new management” as it were we felt it appropriate to wrap up 2016 before moving on to our next production.


We have really appreciated all your support this year as we sought to take Heber forward under new management. In particular we would like to thank our new management team who have done sterling work without which we would not have been able to keep going.

So take a bow please:-

  • Chrissie Berridge – fantastic poster design, photography and blogging for the website, sourcing of props

  • Julie Emmerton – sourcing of material for and making of all costumes as well as personally tackling leaflet distribution

  • Sara Gardner – co-ordinating all front of house requirements and with husband Jon setting up seating at each venue and providing a raffle and refreshments

  • Jo Harper – setting up box office arrangements, updating e-mail listings and keeping supporters informed as well as being minute secretary for team meetings

  • John Hole – various press liaison, organising licenced bar facilities

  • Jenny Letton – Treasurer duties, organising printing of all advertising material, marketing and fund raising

  • Dave Roberts – for sourcing and booking all performance venues, managing and running the website

This is by no means a comprehensive list of what everyone does but we do sincerely thank them all.

The “Pearl Fishers” proved a huge success at the box office which was a delightful surprise and we really do appreciate everyone who bought tickets and came along.

It was not an easy piece and a hard sing for everyone but we hope you felt that we acquitted ourselves reasonable well.

Our soloists ( Sally Wilson, Nick Forest, Mike MacKenzie and Steve Hawksley ) are to be particularly congratulated on their individual performances.

We receive no funding or grant and everything we do is self-funded. All the singers pay a show levy and other vital funds are raised from various activities such as the recent “High Tea Concert”. This event was a sell-out three weeks before the concert and we had several people phoning up late in the day for tickets and being disappointed that they couldn’t get any. Obviously when we do a catered event we have to set a limit to the number of people we can accommodate so this just shows the importance of booking early!!

Other fund raising includes Craft Fayres ( organised by Jenny Letton ) and every December we are engaged by the Bluebell Railway to provide sessions of carol singing for their evening dinner train. This year we will have done 9 by Christmas Eve. Believe it or not some of us have been singing carols for the Bluebell Railway for approx 30 years now. It all started via a suggestion of Sara Gardner to the Bluebell catering team when the Christmas Dinner trains first started and has continued ever since.

Next year will soon be upon us and rehearsals for Faust start on January 8th.

If you have any active friends that sing and might be interested do ask them to get in touch – especially men!

Just because we had a virtual sell-out last year we are not complacent and will be working as hard if not harder to promote Faust so please do keep an eye on the website for details. Performances are the last two week-ends in May 2017 and booking opens in February.

Finally, we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in 2017, hopefully at a performance of Faust or at one of our fund-raising events but meanwhile we wish you all a very Happy Christmas and sincere good wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Michael & Dorothy Withers ( Music and Stage directors ) and all the Heber company.