Chrissie Berridge's blog

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!

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

A magical Christmas evening at the Royal Pavilion

  • Posted on: 18 December 2016
  • By: Chrissie Berridge

Working at the Royal Pavilion has its advantages! I was tasked with finding two choirs for our Christmas banquets, and I thought it would be great to give Heber Opera the opportunity. Singing in the spectacular Music Room (the Prince Regent's favourite room in this iconic building) is such an amazing experience, even more so with the room decorated in its lavish Christmas finery.

Pavilion

The Christmas banquets are very popular, and guests are treated to a drinks reception in The Great Kitchen followed by a short concert in the Music Room, before heading into the magnificent Banqueting Room for a three course meal. Everyone dresses up - sparkles, long frocks, and bow ties are the order of the evening. The event gives a glimmer of what life may have been like for those lucky enough to be invited when Prince George (later King George IV) was in residence.

Heber Opera didn't disappoint as they sang to the 90 guests, with Tim Naill at the keyboard and Michael Withers conducting. The repertoire included the magnificent choruses from Aida, and The Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco, as well as a cheeky little G&S number, before ending with the seasonal We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Solos came courtesy of Veronica Brookes, with a delightfully mischievous Don Giovanni duet from Andy Holden and Dorothy Withers.

With the audience led off to feast Heber packed up their scores, but the singing wasn't over for some. The evening was a Bluebell evening, so a good cohort sped up to Sheffield Park station to sing Christmas Cheer to a second lot of diners. It's full steam ahead!

The Royal Pavilion is open over the Christmas period (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day). The entire palace is wearing Christmas finery so do come and admire it with friends and family, and enjoy the beauty of its Music Room for yourselves.

Are you ready for the Burning Sands?

  • Posted on: 24 July 2016
  • By: Chrissie Berridge

Taste the summer as Liffey Carverhill offers up the secret of the Burning Sands cocktails, served to cast during the Pearl Fishers run. She says, “I had a few requests for the recipe for Week 1's cocktail. It begins as a precise science, but as many of you will have seen, it ends up with a bit of sloshing and tasting.”

Pearl Fishers Poster

Alcoholic mixture (chilled – use as much as needed!)

300ml dark rum

200ml coconut Bacardi

200ml Crabbies ginger wine

150ml Pisang (banana liqueur)

150ml limoncello

100ml litchi liqueur

100ml chili ginger vodka

Pineapple sludge (all mixed and frozen)

Pulped fresh pineapple (one of your 5-a-day)

1 can of coconut water

Tot of rum

Juice of a lime

Litchi sludge (all mixed and frozen)

Pulped tin of litchis and juice (another of your 5-a-day)

Glass of litchi liqueur

Bottle of Peach bellini

Cans of lemonade 

Cans of ginger beer

Bottle of Prosecco (optional)

Mint (another of your 5-a-day)

A bag of ice

 

The glamourous life of the stage manager

  • Posted on: 24 April 2016
  • By: Chrissie Berridge

The props list for Heber Opera’s production of The Pearl Fishers includes oyster shells. It was my job to find them. This wasn’t a problem as I work close to English’s Oyster Bar in central Brighton. When I called in to ask, they were happy to save their leftovers for me. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was the work involved in cleaning them!

oysters

English’s customers had already enjoyed the best part of the process– eating the oysters. I have to admit however, that I am not a fan of seafood, and the proprietor of the establishment told me that I would need to remove the last vestiges of the flesh, before boiling the shells before use on stage. I can’t say that I was thrilled at the task but needs must.

When I got the shells home I set about prising away the fleshy remnants – with knife, and then teaspoon. Not without injury as the edges of the shells can be sharp as my fingers will testify. Soon I had a pile of grisly bits and a pervading fishy scent of the sea working its way through my house. But I got a production line going; removal of flesh, boiling of shells, draining and rinsing.

As I had to scrutinise each shell, I found them actually quite pretty and I can see that I will most likely end up hanging on to them. They can go with my scallop shells – and they’re still awaiting their turn centre stage!

Back to Blocking

  • Posted on: 13 January 2016
  • By: Chrissie Berridge

Last night’s open rehearsal for The Pearl Fishers was in full swing when I dropped in with the first of the props on my list.

 

Michael was busy with the baton (with Tim doing the honours at the keyboard), while his wife Dorothy took charge with her directorial debut (stepping into Heber founder, Roger Clow’s well worn shoes). As Michael had bought his camera along I took advantage and took some shots of these early proceedings.

It was great to see some new faces joining in enthusiastically while the old hands simply looked delighted to re-enter the Heber Opera fray. At these earliest of rehearsals it can seem a confusing mix of music and movement. But everyone was taking their first footsteps with a determination to get a feel for what lay ahead. Whether it was the cake bought along for interval refreshment, or the lure of the pub afterwards, I wasn’t sure, but I’m pretty certain everyone will be back for more!