Happy New Year!

  • Posted on: 1 January 2020
  • By: Dorothy Withers

Well it’s that time of year again when we look back on what Heber Opera has achieved over the past 12 months.

Norma production (Grace, Matt and Veronica)

Our production of Bellini’s “Norma” in May was an artistic triumph with outstanding performances from all our principal singers. Despite the complexities of a difficult vocal score and the antiquated setting everyone rose to the challenge. Veronica Brooks excelled both vocally and dramatically in the title role and our two new members (Matt Connelly and Grace Lovelass) fitted in so well with the Heber way of doing things that one would think they had been with us for years. Bethan Jackson, Steve Hawksley and Nick Forrest completed the principal line-up bringing their experience to provide real depth of characterisation to their roles. Sadly audience numbers were slightly down but we had nothing but praise from those people who did come and hopefully the word went round about the high quality of the performances.

Norma production: Sacred Goddess (Casta Diva), Veronica and chorus

Later in the year we presented a concert as part of the Hurstpierpoint Festival and as well as all our soloists from “Norma” we were delighted to be joined by Dick Bacon, Tim Crouch, Mike Mackenzie and Sally Wilson. Daria Roberton and Jennie Duval from our ladies chorus were also featured in a couple of the ensemble numbers. After a lot of thought we had decided that rather than just a stand and sing event we would include costumes and movement to enhance the dramatic content. The programme was made up of solo, duet and ensemble numbers from a variety of operas including Pagliacci, L’elisir d’amore, Madam Butterfly, Sampson & Delilah and Tosca concluding with scenes from Norma. It was hard work as everyone had to be off book but it had real impact and showed off the depth of talent we have in all our soloists.

Hurst Festival – Nabucco trio (Tim, Bethan and Sally)

Hurst Festival: Madama Butterfly (Matt and Veronica)

Hurst Festival: Scene from ‘Norma’ (chorus)

This month we have been privileged to perform three times at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion. It is an honour to have been asked back for the third year in a row but always a joy to be able to sing in the music room, a truly beautiful setting enhanced even more this year by an exhibition of porcelain pagodas on loan from Buckingham Palace. We have to arrive very early for security reasons and it was by no means straightforward getting to the Pavilion this year due to all the road works in Brighton so we would like to thank all our singers who braved not only the awful weather, but also the traffic in order to get there.

Carol concert at Brighton Royal Pavilion

Finally we had our usual stint of Christmas carol singing on Sheffield Park station for The Bluebell Railway. Nine sessions this year and there were some hairy driving conditions to get there each night as due to the heavy rainfall many of the roads were increasingly subject to flooding. On the final Thursday there was a landslip outside Horsted Keynes which affected the dinner train’s schedule and it arrived half an hour early. Fortunately 5 of us were there to kick off the singing until the rest of our team came and joined us.

Carol singing at the Bluebell Railway (1 of 2)

Carol singing at the Bluebell Railway (2 of 2)

It is a really joyful thing to do at this time of year especially if the diners from the train come and join in. We see one or two familiar faces who have been on the Christmas train for a number of years and they greet us like old friends. As for the carollers our numbers are swelled on some nights by ex Wandering Minstrel members, ex Heber singers and often wives, husbands and children make an appearance too so overall it’s a lovely social gathering. Again, sincere thanks to everyone who braved the weather this year to come and sing with us.

Looking ahead, we start rehearsals for “Martha” on 5 th January. This is a different sort of production from recent years as it is much jollier and nobody dies!! We will post more information in the New Year, about the singers and the plot and when the box office is available so do watch this space.

Finally, as well as thanking everyone involved whether singing, behind the scenes or loyal supporters we also send you our very best wishes for the Christmas season and may we all look forward to a happy, peaceful and successful New Year.

See you in 2020!

Martha - Planning the Artwork

  • Posted on: 23 November 2019
  • By: Chrissie Berridge

I wanted the poster design for the 2020 production of Martha to have a very different feel to this year's Norma. As usual I received a comprehensive brief from Dorothy and Michael as to the elements of the storyline that they wanted to convey. Then it was down to me to come up with a number of options.

The opera isn't well known, although its song, The Last Rose of Summer, may well be familiar to many even if they don't know the source. I wanted to include the rose element and that was my starting point. I tried a variety of ideas just featuring a red rose, held in a hand, with almost a monotone colour way save for the red of the petals. But these initial designs were if anything too gloomy, and Martha isn't a tragic opera.

So I went back to the drawing board and looked again at the brief and decided to focus on representing something of the two main characters instead.

Any successful poster design has to marry images with the text - both need to be legible. I started with the heading of Martha, and the venue and ticket details, then worked on the imagery. The action takes place at a fair and that was another firm element to include, perfectly represented by colourful bunting. This also helps to anchor the text areas. Then it was a matter of creating still life images, which call to mind the two protagonists.

I organised a photoshoot, gathering the pieces, grouped around the footwear - practical wellington boots, and impractical red stiletto shoes! Then it was a matter of adding further props to embellish the image without overloading it. I arranged the items in various ways but wasn't happy with the boots until I added the potatoes and cabbage to suggest a gentleman farmer. The red shoe vignette came next and hopefully it indicates our good time girl searching for some fun. Then it was a matter of playing with the scale of the images, and adding some background colourful rings, another nod to all the fun of the fair, to highlight them.

I had designed the poster with a white background initially, but changing it to yellow which I think suits the jaunty storyline. It also should draw the eye too...and encourage people to see what Martha is all about and book those tickets.

But, just what is the relevance of the money? And why would a girl on a night out, anticipating a cocktail or two, be doing with a rubber glove in her evening bag? You'll just have to come along and see!

Chorus Auditions - December 8th 2019

  • Posted on: 17 November 2019
  • By: admin

Do you like to sing?

Heber Opera is looking for enthusiastic singers to join the chorus for its 2020 production of Martha by Freidrich Von Flotow. Rehearsals for this jolly opera start in January for performance in May 2020 and we would like to arrange to meet interested singers from 7.30pm on Sunday 8 December in Hurstpierpoint Village Centre. An ability to read music is an advantage but not essential, as rehearsals are designed to be supportive and encouraging. All voices are welcome, but we would particularly like to hear from tenors and basses.

Please contact Heber Opera’s Musical Director Michael Withers to find out more and to arrange a time to meet on 8 December.

September 2019 - The Passion of Opera

  • Posted on: 11 August 2019
  • By: admin

On 14th September 2019 at Holy Trinity Church, Hurstpierpoint we will be presenting ‘The Passion of Opera’ - a show exploring the theme of Passion in opera as part of the Hurst Festival.

Opera remains such a timeless and eternally relevant art form because it reflects the most basic human emotions. Love, lust and retribution have been the cornerstones of most operatic plots through the ages.

Heber Opera is delighted to be able to use the wonderful spaces of Holy Trinity to present a sequence of staged operatic excerpts exploring love, lust and the retribution that so often follows. The excerpts will include highlights from Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Macbeth and La Bohème.

Tickets are available from the Hurst Festival website

Norma - Opening this Saturday!

  • Posted on: 14 May 2019
  • By: admin

Only a few more days remain before the opening night of Heber Opera's production of "Norma" and the cast are busy memorising their lines and stage moves. During the last few rehearsals, we have been putting the finishing touches to the production and all the hard work is coming to fruition.

Our principal singers are really sounding exceptional in this production and the orchestra were fantastic at the "band call" last weekend. The props have been prepared and the lighting has been planned and tested. We have been trying on our costumes, brilantly prepared by our very own Julie, and getting into character as Romans, Druids and Gauls.

The Blade of Brenno has been sharpened and the Sickle of Fate is polished and ready for action. Dare you come to the Sacred Grove and witness our rituals? We don't like intruders - especially Romans! - but we hope you will come to the show all the same!

There are a few tickets still available

Norma - meet the cast - Veronica Brooks is Norma!

  • Posted on: 15 April 2019
  • By: Dorothy Withers

The character of Norma is complex to say the least. A druidic priestess, commanding deep respect and devotion from her Celtic people, she repeatedly tells them that the gods say they must peacefully obey their Roman conquerors. However, unbeknown to her people she has (for reasons not explained in the story) entered into a secret romantic liaison with Pollione, the hated Roman pro-consul, and borne him two children. When his attentions turn elsewhere her outwardly calm and serene appearance is shattered and she experiences the full range of conflicting human emotions which lead her to urge her people into battle, bloodshed and destruction.

Veronica has performed with Heber Opera for over 20 years and during that time has had the opportunity to play some of the really great soprano roles. Her favourites have included Lady Macbeth, Tosca, Violetta (La Traviata), Lucia di Lammermoor and Fiordiligi (Cosi Fan Tutte) as well as many other rewarding roles such as Leonora (in both Fidelio and Trovatore), Aida, and Amelia (Nabucco).

This current role of Norma is considered to be one of the most difficult in the soprano repertoire so we are indeed fortunate that Veronica was prepared to tackle it. Now very experienced with our ”in the round” style of production, not only is Veronica an accomplished performer but with her beautiful voice and excellent vocal technique is more than able to do full justice to Bellini’s music. Audiences are in for a real treat as there are some truly lovely arias, duets and trios in this seldom performed opera.

Veronica studies singing with Elizabeth Brice and also indulges her love of opera in her work as Director of Organisational Development at Glyndebourne. Veronica is married to Andrew and they have two children.

Norma - meet the cast - Nick Forest is Flavio

  • Posted on: 15 April 2019
  • By: Dorothy Withers

Flavio is aide to Pollione the roman pro-consul sent to Gaul to rule over the indigenous celtish tribes. A seasoned soldier, Flavio has “seen it all” and his main problem at the moment is to keep Pollione from making a fool of himself where women are concerned!

Nick has been with Heber Opera since it started some 30 years ago and regular supporters of our group will know him from his strong portrayals of characters, ranging from the darkly sinister such as Scarpia or Iago ( from Verdi’s “Tosca” & “Otello” respectively) through to memorable comic interpretations like the “Moon man” from Pyramus and Thisbe ( John Frederick Lampe ) or “Eisenstein from Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus”.

His most recent appearance for Heber was as the title role in Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. This was a tour de force both dramatically and vocally and true to form Nick rose to the challenge and smashed it!

There are no big baritone roles for Nick in Norma but we are delighted that he is bringing all his depth of experience to the role of Flavio and fleshing out a character that quite often gets overlooked in other productions.

Since retiring from teaching ( Drama & Singing ) Nick can focus more on being a full-time singer, both in the world of opera and also with his band, the ever popular and much in demand “Wilbury Jam” . Nick also loves his sport especially rugby union and cricket but these days more as a spectator than a player.

Norma - meet the cast - Steve Hawksley

  • Posted on: 15 April 2019
  • By: Dorothy Withers

Steve Hawksley takes the role of Oroveso, chief druid to his celtic people and father of Norma. Proud of his priestess daughter he is devastated when the truth about her secret life is discovered.

Steve has become a familiar figure to Heber Opera audiences in recent years.  Most recently, he was devilishly compelling in the role of Mephistopheles in our production of Gounod’s Faust.

Previous operatic roles include: The Doctor (Imago) with Glyndebourne Community Opera; Basilio, Timur and the Baron (Tri-Opera) and Banco (Macbeth) with Southwick Opera; Uberto (La Serva Padrona) with Colla Voce; Aeneas (Dido and Aeneas) with Tichbourne Chorale and with Linden Opera; Zaccaria (Nabucco), Rocco (Fidelio), Belcore (Elixir of Love), Onegin (Eugene Onegin), Polyphemus (Acis and Galatea), Raimondo (Lucia di Lammermoor), Nourabad (Pearl Fishers) and Ferrando (Il Trovatore); all with Heber Opera.

Other solo appearances have featured in Requiems by Mozart, Brahms and Fauré, Beethoven's Mass in C, Schubert's Mass in G, Rossini's Messe Sollenelle and Puccini's Messa di Gloria.

Steve lives in Hassocks and whilst the demands of family life take precedence, he enjoys playing squash when everyone else has gone to bed. He says that chasing a small rubber ball around the court is a great way to expand the lungs, despite the impact on his knees.

Norma - meet the cast - Bethan Jackson

  • Posted on: 4 April 2019
  • By: Dorothy Withers

Bethan Jackson sings the role of Clotilde, companion to Norma and keeper of her secrets!

Bethan has been with Heber Opera for about 5 years now and is having great fun singing with old and new friends. As well as using her lovely soprano voice to great effect in concerts etc Bethan can always be relied on for enthusiasm and energy in whatever she undertakes, including working hard behind the scenes to support our various fund raising events.

Originally from Swansea, South Wales, Bethan studied singing at Trinity College of Music, London and then went on to pursue a career in teaching. Whilst in London Bethan was a member of Imperial College Opera group and Imperial Opera, where she met her husband Laurie. They travelled abroad extensively for work which brought the opportunity to sing with groups in different countries. In Indonesia, Bethan was the president of the Welsh Society and sang with groups such as the Jakarta International Choir, British Women’s Association choir plus a newly formed operatic group. In Texas she joined the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and the Sweet Adelines ( a barber shop group) then in Angola ( where she taught for two years) she sang with the International School Choir and the British Embassy Choir.

Now with 3 children, the Jackson family returned to the UK to live in Berkshire, where Bethan sang with the Douai Abbey Singers, and a subsequent move to Hove brought her to Heber Opera. She now sings with two other groups in the area as well as the London based Gloriana women’s choir.

Not one to twiddle her thumbs, having retired from teaching and with the children all grown up and living independently, Bethan is now studying for a BA in Art History.