Opera in a time of pandemic

  • Posted on: 23 November 2020
  • By: Michael Withers

We’ve been struggling for most of 2020 to find ways of performing opera. Freelance singers and musicians have been badly hit by the pandemic and the lack of performances of any kind for most of the year, and it doesn’t look as though it’s going to get any better until well into next year. The issue, of course, is that opera is a dramatic medium; socially distanced opera performances can’t replicate the tension or passion of physical closeness. Glyndebourne managed a live socially distanced performance of Offenbach’s ‘Mesdames de la Halle’ and the energy of the performance almost made us forget though the cleverness of the production reminded us throughout that the characters were not to get too close.

Two other companies have resorted to digital media to attempt to present Covid-secure opera.

A virtual Hansel and Gretel

Iford Arts, a Wiltshire-based company known for its educational outreach activities, launched ‘Gingerbread!’ in August. This production cleverly uses Zoom-style home recordings against special backdrops to tell the Hansel and Gretel story in a digital medium.

You can find this performance on YouTube Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOgmTXA6hQs where you will also find links to the subsequent episodes.

The Virtual Opera Project

Taking the idea one step further, one hugely enterprising solution has been the ‘Virtual Opera Project’. This performance of Ravel’s opera ‘L’enfant et les sortileges’ was undertaken in collaboration with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Concordia Foundationand is a full-scale digital creation directed by Rachel Hewer. All the singers were recorded at home, the orchestra was recorded socially distanced, actors worked in green-screen studio to provide the ‘bodies’ for the singers. The effect, brilliantly stylised, is remarkable.

Of even more interest to Heber members and supporters is the fact that the conductor was Lee Reynolds, who many will remember from Lewes Operatic, and who played in our orchestra for a number of shows. He also prepared the reduced arrangement of Ravel’s score. Well done, Lee, brilliant achievement! (And if you read the cast list, you’ll find that Grace Lovelass sang in the chorus.)

The production is available on YouTube, but only for 30 days from 16 November: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTkwaB8l4SA

If you are impressed with this digital creation, please consider making a donation.

Looking back - and looking forward to next year!

  • Posted on: 12 May 2020
  • By: Chrissie Berridge

All live theatre productions are cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak, and Heber Opera is no exception. Normally we would be in the last few rehearsals for our planned production of Martha.

Instead during this period of lockdown we have been looking back at some of our previous productions. Here are just a few images from Heber Opera's previous productions, taken during rehearsals as well as show performances.

The cast and production team are looking forward to resuming our productions next year, when Martha can be staged.


  • Posted on: 14 March 2020
  • By: Dorothy Withers

It is with much regret that we announce the decision to cancel our production of “Martha” which was due to be performed this May.

Taking into consideration the Prime Ministers recent comments regarding the on-going Coronavirus epidemic which is supposed to peak around our chosen performance dates, we felt there was no responsible option other than to cancel or at least postpone our performances. The plan, all being well, is to present “Martha” in 2021.

To all our supporters, we are sorry to disappoint you but sincerely hope that you will “watch this space” for news about future events and in particular that you come and see “Martha” when it is performed next year.

Martha News

  • Posted on: 28 February 2020
  • By: Dorothy Withers

We had our first floor rehearsal, last Sunday and it’s always a bit of a shock to the system trying to put moves to words and music that isn’t fully in the memory banks yet. Singers arrive to find some strange cabbalistic markings on the floor which are explained as the set. The director airily tells them that this consists of three rostra being a central 2x 2 flanked on each side by a 1x 3 which are slightly lower and by the way there will also be steps on the remaining 2 sides of the centre. She ( the director) stresses that people should not walk across the markings on the floor un less they have been told to step up onto a rostrum.

It is understandably very difficult to imagine a 2 tiered structure when the only indication is a series of hyphens on the floor ( because we had nearly run out of masking tape!!) Regular Heber singers have got used to the complexities of all this stuff and just shrug and go with the flow but it must be total gobble-di-gook to anyone who is working with us for the first time.

Never the less, we had a very productive rehearsal – a good session with principal soloists from 6.00pm and then with chorus from 7.30pm to 10pm. Sunday evenings are quite intensive and everyone works very hard especially Tim Nail our pianist who plays solidly for 4 hours – what a star!

The show itself is good fun with a lot of humorous moments and importantly for a change, nobody dies! The story involves social class divisions, brotherly affection, confusion over identities, the rejection of romantic love first by the girl and then by the boy but all finally concluding with and true love triumphant.

Tickets will be on sale from March 1st (via Ticketsource ) and for those of you who don’t like on-line booking, our telephone line will be live from March 2nd.

Book now


“Martha” is a lovely show and not performed very often so do come and see it.


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.