Bizet’s opera explores love triangle of forbidden passion and betrayal

Michael and Dorothy Withers
Michael and Dorothy Withers
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Heber Opera are once again touring Sussex to show, as musical director Michael Withers says, that opera really doesn’t have to be about Glyndebourne, the Royal Opera House, tuxedos and posh frocks.

It can be, if you like, and Michael stresses he has got nothing against that.

But the Heber approach is to stress, far more importantly, that opera is really actually about story-telling – and about bringing out the drama.

Their latest production is The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet.

They play The King Edward Hall, Lindfield, on May 21 at 7.30pm; The Village Centre, Hurstpierpoint, on May 22 at 6pm; Kemp Town, Brighton, on May 26 at 7.30pm; The Steyning Centre on May 28 at 7.30pm; and Uckfield Civic Centre on May 29 at 6pm. Tickets on heberopera.co.uk.

Famous for the sacred temple duet Au fond du Temple Saint, The Pearl Fishers is set around the dangerous occupation of pearl-diving in Ceylon.

Bizet’s melodies underpin the plot, which revolves around a love triangle of forbidden passion and betrayal. Religious superstition and self-sacrifice ultimately bring about fatal consequences.

“Opera is really about musical theatre,” Michael says.

“It is about passion and trust and betrayal and about love transcending all. And we do it in the round. We do it in village halls, and we do it in English because we want people to understand every single nuance of what is going on. We have got singers who are singing arias in the show, and they are just a couple of steps away from the audience. It makes it so much more involving and engaging, and that’s what really attracts people to come to see Heber.”

“In Russia and in Italy, opera is the musical theatre of the people, but for some reason in England it has this slightly high-brow elitist thing about it, but that doesn’t have to be the case. We want to break that down.

“The chap who founded Heber was a chap called Roger Clow, and he and I were responsible for the first-ever show that Heber did, a piece by Benjamin Britten. Roger believed, and I believe passionately, that opera is drama, and that’s really where the power of opera comes.

“It’s a long way away from waiting for the fat lady to come and sing!

“The Pearl Fishers is a great show to do in that lots of people know one piece from it. Anybody that listens to Classic FM will know the duet from The Pearl Fishers. It is very familiar, but there is so much more to it than that. It is a very tuneful show, and it is the love-transcending type story with a happy ending for the soprano and tenor and a not-so-happy ending for the baritone. It’s a lovely, tuneful, attractive show in a lovely setting, set among a community of pearl divers.

“You have got lots of lovely characterisation in the chorus as well, not just the principals.”

Adding to the interest for Michael is the fact that his wife Dorothy, a principal singer with Heber Opera since its beginning, is making her debut as director, opposite Michael as musical director.

“We have often worked together with Dorothy singing, but this is the first time we have worked together with Dorothy directing, and it is going very well. I am enjoying it. And I think she is enjoying it! It means that we have the time to talk. We don’t have to set up meetings. We can talk about it any time we want to talk about it, and we do have very similar views about the way that opera should be produced.”

Michael added: “Heber Opera is always pleased to welcome new voices in all parts (but especially tenors). They don’t need to be experienced in opera or trained voices, they just to be able to hold a tune and be curious about this amazing genre of musical theatre!”

Contact Michael on michael@michaelwithers.co.uk.

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