Norma - meet the cast - Matt Connolly

  • Posted on: 25 March 2019
  • By: Dorothy Withers

We are delighted to introduce you to Matt Connolly who joins Heber to sing the role of Pollione. The character of Pollione is pivotal to the plot of this opera. His secret illicit relationship with Norma is further complicated when he tires of her and becomes obsessed with Adalgisa. The emotional confusion that follows spirals out of control leading to an inevitable conclusion.

Matt first took an interest in singing while studying Philosophy in Mainz, Germany, taking lessons at the Konservatorium there for a year under Roger Durstewitz. After returning to England, he continued studying singing with Andrew Hambly-Smith in Bristol, and later with Pauline Tinsley in London.

For a number of years he sang principal tenor roles in the semi-pro circuit in and around London, moving gradually from the French lyric repertoire to the Italian verismo repertoire of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. Most at home singing the familiar operas of Verdi and Puccini, he has nonetheless sung some oddities, and in the last year found himself singing mostly in German or Russian.

While this is his first time singing with Heber Opera, he is not entirely new to the area. One of the “oddities” of his early singing career was creating the role of Cuthman in “Cuthman’s Journey”, an opera about St Cuthman of Steyning, which received its premiere in the village.

Originally from the fenlands of southern Lincolnshire, Matt now lives in Tonbridge in Kent. By day he works in data warehousing and data science, and when he gets the chance he likes to play cricket, though as a fast bowler, he feels his days are now numbered!

Introducing Grace Lovelass

  • Posted on: 13 March 2019
  • By: Dorothy Withers

Heber Opera would like to introduce to you Grace Lovelass ( mezzo-soprano) in the role of “Adalgisa“ (replacing Michel Restieux who unfortunately had to withdraw because of other commitments).

Grace currently lives in Dorset which is at least a 4 hour round trip to Hurstpierpoint each week for rehearsals. When someone is willing to undertake that amount of travelling for a role it shows a real commitment to their love of singing.

Originally from Bedfordshire, Grace read Classics at Kings College London and on graduation, her career for the next 14 years was in Public Relations. Grace has appeared with Dorset Opera Festival for each of the past three years singing small and cover roles as well as chorus and for other company’s has taken roles in a variety of operas including Eugene Onegin, Cenerentola, Dido & Aeneas, and La Traviata.

In 2015 she made her classical/operatic debut at the Bournemouth Music Competitions Festival and the following year was placed first in five prestigious classes taking home a lot of silverware to polish!

Deciding to embark on a professional singing career Grace secured awards, bursaries and sponsorship to help fund her on-going studies in Opera at the Associated Studios in London. Since turning professional, Grace has been a regular guest soloist with choirs such as Wessex Festival Singers, Wareham Choral Society and Purbeck Arts Choir and last year appeared under the direction of Pamela Howard OBE as part of Bernstein in Chichester 2018.

When not exercising her vocal chords Grace takes advantage of living close to the Jurassic coast. She has been a keen competitive rower for over 15 years and also enjoys running in the beautiful Purbeck countryside. For any “Strictly” fans among our Heber followers, they might be interested to learn that she is a trained ballroom and Latin dancer with competitive experience in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom!!

From our point of view it was very important to secure someone who would not only blend vocally and dramatically but would also have the right personality to fit in with the existingHeber team. We feel sure this is the case with Grace and are delighted and privileged to welcome such a talented young lady into our midst. We are sure she has a successful career ahead of her and know you will enjoy her portrayal of Adalgisa in our production of “Norma” this May.

Heber's production of "Norma" May 2019

  • Posted on: 21 February 2019
  • By: Dorothy Withers

Followers of our website will know that our box office should have opened from 1st February but regrettably due to unforseen problems this was not possible. We have now resolved the issues responsible for the delay and confirm that tickets will be on sale from 1st March.

We sincerely apologise to anyone who has been trying to book seats in the past couple of weeks and hope you will try again in March.

Merry Christmas!

  • Posted on: 25 December 2018
  • By: Dorothy Withers

Dear Heber members and supporters,

Looking back on 2018 we are pleased to report another musically successful year for Heber Opera. In particular our production of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ in May was really well received by our audiences. It was by no means an easy sing for the soloists but they all acquitted themselves brilliantly both vocally and dramatically to bring off a memorable production. The chorus also seemed to enjoy the club setting which meant getting out their DJ’s and party frocks!

In September we presented a concert as the opening event for the Hurstpierpoint Festival and a large and appreciative audience came to hear us. Then earlier this month we made a repeat visit to Brighton’s Royal Pavilion to present a short Christmas programme there, again it was well received and the organisers are keen to have us back.

We finished our singing year with sessions of Carols for the Bluebell Railway who engage us to provide music for their customers on the special dining trains run throughout the Christmas period. We meet at Sheffield Park around 8.30pm and await the train which normally arrives between 8.45 & 9.00pm and then sing four part harmony carols for around 30 minutes. Diners get off the train to stretch their legs and often come and join in with the singing which makes for a lovely festive atmosphere. Many of us have been doing this for around 30 years in all sorts of weather but this year has probably been the mildest (and dampest).

Looking ahead to next year we start rehearsals in January for our production of ‘Norma’ by Bellini. The story deals with druids and Celts versus the invading Romans, and although the full opera is not done that often these days it contains one of operas most famous arias ‘Casta Diva’. We are planning an exciting production and hope we shall see you at one of the performances in May. Booking starts in February!

Thanks to all of you whether singers, admin, backstage, or audience we really appreciate your support of Heber over the years and hope it may continue for the future. With every good wish for Christmas and The New Year.

Michael & Dorothy Withers

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

Heber Opera Craft Fair

  • Posted on: 1 October 2018
  • By: admin


Hurstpierpoint Village Centre

Saturday 13 October - 10:00am to 2:00pm

Come along and enjoy the wonderful selection of stalls offering all manner of beautiful hand-made items. A perfect opportunity to stock up on gifts for family and friends or to find something special for yourself. There will be refreshments available including delicious biscuits, cakes and savoury snacks baked by the wonderful and talented ladies of the Heber Opera Chorus.

Some stalls still available at £20 (table provided). Please email for more details.


  • 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.

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.

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


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!