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.

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