OPERA AS IT SHOULD BE.

We are privileged to be part of the first night of the new production of  Verdi’s little known “Luisa Miller” at ENO, and ask; why has it taken so long for this superb emotional journey, to be given its  place in our modern Italian repertoire.

The young lady rushes down the steps at Charing Cross tube and bundles into the last Bakerloo carriage. She is finely dressed. She sits down quickly, next to me, there is a colour in her cheeks and she looks perplexed,  almost excited.

I ask “You went to the Opera then?”

She can hardly get the words out of her mouth; “Oh yes!   Wasn’t it absolutely fantastic!!”

You could argue that the essence of opera, is the use of voice, to transform our soul. What starts as the random singing in the shower, is the embryo of the fine tuned and perfect journey that  opera – on a good day –  can become, … can reach heights we had not envisaged.

This was not a good day. 

This was an exceptional day. A stunning and riveting musical expression that ranks  among the very best of my own many decades of witnessing ENO opera. The Direction had a tightness and absolute sync with the onstage protagonists, that drove our two protagonists, Luisa and Rodolfo forward, intertwined with a precise orchestra, and a developing and increasing symbolism from light to dark, white to black, good to evil, that is recognisable only after the event, when you get home and say to yourself : “yes indeed – that was fantastic!”

This discussion note, is not a musical critique. There are others who can do a better job than I – and my role is merely to express my feelings as a human being, of an evening that unfolds.

This modern and superbly edgy production of “Luisa Miller” has melody, a flow and inevitability that pulls you along, the chemistry between all of the protagonists, and I could name them all, the  phenomenal singing, that is so convincing in terms of emotion expressed that you know you are with Luisa in her bewilderment and despair, are alongside Rodolfo in the final scene and are powerless to intervene. We are mere bystanders watching a human tragedy that has long since gone beyond musical expression.

There is only one Harewood artist, Nadine Benjamin, and perhaps that is for the best. This opera needs experienced hands. Even then, Nadine comes to the stage as exemplary in Porgy and Bess. This is no lightweight cast. Elizabeth Llewelyn as Luisa  already has a stellar reputation in Italian opera. Baritone Olafur Sigudarson is an international Classical sInger of the Year, and I can go on.

And yet, my standout moment, is not the signing, or even the music. It is the cleverness, the subtlety, the little touches that you pick up here and throughout this production.

I left the auditorium, it was raining, and I hurried across the square down to the tube station entrance. A northbound train was already  arriving and the rear doors just stayed open long enough.

Why Inclusion & Diversity Is An Executive Priority

Creating inclusive, respectful and engaging workplace cultures is essential for an organisation’ success. Seems just right on paper but how do companies define and create this culture, empowering employees to feel motivated?

Storytelling. With Benefits

We review the latest production of “Carmen” at the English National Opera at London’s Coliseum, and note that its message and moral, is just as relevant. “Carmen” remains a story of all of our times.

Valentina Peleggi strides into the orchestra ensemble. She acknowledges  the gentle applause, motions to her orchestra to stand briefly – and then quickly we are off!  It is fast, furious, the melodies, swiftly move from one to the next. And there is a difference. There is an anxiousness. This is no Mozart comedy.

And then Micaela – played by the excellent Nardus Williams, making her ENO debut – gently walks into view, amongst the military who are setting the scene. And the opera proper, begins…

‘Carmen”, for me, has always held a soft spot. It was my first opera I ever truly studied as a kid. It has a universal message. In that sense, this production rarely touches the emotional deepens of say a Puccini, or a Verdi. But it may not need to to. It is storytelling after all, and it is family storytelling, the little children swarming early on, and inclusion later.

Having said that, there are some superb emotional moments; Sean Panikkar excels as Don Jose, the sadness in his “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee”, and chemistry with Nardus Williams. Plus the spot on performance and leadership of Ellie Laugharne and Samantha Price, as Frasquita and Mercedes respectively.  It is crisp, very tight, very controlled, and it is a journey about sexual and emotional control.  A story indeed.  With benefits.

Inclusion and Diversity. The two words that will make the biggest difference to your Business. And about which you know – nothing.

Almost every medium to large  company – when asked “what are its biggest assets” – will answer; “our people”. And yet nowhere, amongst  the public targets and mission statements and KPIs of any company, will you find any value or acknowledgement to look after the wellbeing of its same employees.

This small Note now – is the first of a series of much longer articles where we look at  key aspects  of the Office Family that will take your business forward in 2020.

Does this add up? Remote Healthcare = Healthy Living.

We look at one of the happiest Editorials we have received in a long time, because it features how latest tech can monitor us remotely, and we stay healthy and enjoy life!  It is a topic we have touched on before on these pages, because it is the key sign that healthcare is no longer the province of places called hospitals – but has become a community driven focus, that drives ecology innovation and healthy living through a mix of people of all ages.  As we have said before – many times – we are all doctors now. 

HOW BEST TO DEVELOP YOUR BUSINESS IN 2020; OUR NEW YEAR MESSAGE

At a time when the doomsayers of global warming have us reaching for the duvet and cancelling our frequent flyer airmiles, we ask – just how far do we need to go, travel-wise – for the sake of business, and does it work anyway?

Actually – we don’t have to go very far at all. But that does not stop the fanciful dreams of hopeless romantics jumping on long distance planes. There has to be a compromise, but so often, the decision makers of such compromises have their own vested interests – or often no actual interest.

GLOBAL WARMING. YES, WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE. YOU AND ME. EVERYONE ELSE.

I’m sitting at one of those speed awareness courses run by our UK police people to chastise errant speedy drivers like myself, and I am looking out of the window, and there is this girl next to me and she too is looking out of the window. And my mind is starting to wander. It’s not that I’ve had a bad day – but I am increasingly tired of the doomsayers telling me that my new hybrid motor car, actually costs more in fossil fuels to make the thing – than my lifetime of electric driving savings can generate.

WHY ARE BIG COMPANIES, BIG? IS IT BECAUSE THEY LOOK AFTER THEIR CUSTOMERS?

We look at the recent CX Network Conference in Stockholm and ask, maybe it’s more than that?

The next question, which I haven’t raised – is; well, if you are a small company, but you want to get bigger – well, is it just a matter of customer focus? Sorry to say, but the answer is alas No. But I think you knew that already, although some of the answers about attitude etc, might surprise you. I will come back to that one.

If you’re going to talk about Customer experience, then there is no better place to sit down at Fika time and chat with friends, – than anywhere in Sweden. Communal consensus and discussion in Scandinavia is a religion and disturbing any colleague as they break for lunch is like interrupting someone at Communion. But this is 10.30 in the morning.

So here we are; drinking our glass of milk and nibbling on our cake, and we are looking out across the water towards Gamla Stan. Pretty much all the big names are there; Vattenfall, Danskebank, Sweco, and I could go on. Each one looking at the alchemy of – how do you translate the act of dealing with a customer, into an actual repeatable experience that transforms your business to “stand out in a sea of sameness”.

And what the delegates and speakers say is that – customer experience does not start with the customer. It starts with the employee. The problems of employee engagement are bigger than the simple act by comparison, of reaching out to the guy whose payments to you, contribute towards your personal mortgage. If you cannot communicate your corporate focus and reason for existence, within your organisation, there is precious little chance of spreading your gospel beyond that.

In the past, this message has not been understood by management. It has translated into an act of self-harm called “Managed HR”, where numbers and individual performance, ie, measurable stats, have taken prime position.

The message here at this Conference, is that life has moved on. Engage with your own employee – and by default you will engage with your customer. You could say this is a triumph of human values over corporate monotony, but the key message from Stockholm and this CX Network event, is that if you can motivate and create an employee experience, then that individuality will take you beyond the “me too” of everyone else in your vertical market.

After launch we talked in small groups about the mechanics of this process, we talk about innovation, of being brave, of making mistakes in the way you communicate. The best presentations were those who were Ok to admit that “guys, we did not know where this would take us”.

And sure, this is not going to reach the heights of an away day at Disney. There will not be the emotion of a roller coaster ride. But there will be for sure the light-bulb moment.

But the bigger surprise is that this is a pan-market discussion; the usual vertical market focus of a typical CX Network event, has been surpassed by bringing everybody together from wherever they come from, from banking thru Energy, thru Retail, thru data and analytics – to HR. And perhaps that is the secret sauce of this meeting of minds. Ultimately, people are people, and human nature is human nature. Reach out to the individual – and you grow as a business. That’s how you do it.

DARK SECRETS. NOW IN THE UK.

We review the latest block-buster novel from Delphine Montariol and ask, why do we need yet another detective story?

You could be forgiven for asking this, but as in all good detective stories, life is not what it seems. Sure we have Agatha Christie as the single sleuth – but remarkably, she is the exception. Nowadays, crime solvers go in pairs.

You could argue that it was always thus, too. Starting with Holmes and Watson – we now have Cagney and Lacey; and Starsky and Hutch – and fast forward a decade to the UK favourite, Morse and his sidekick Lewis.

And then we have location. No self respecting UK crime thriller would be complete without a nice Country House – and set in an age even before people who voted for Brexit were born. All we need is a nice fancy train, a murder before Afternoon Tea, and two new detectives – called Worthington and Spencer.

If you are looking for the classic “whodunnit” with all the rose coloured prejudices and expectations of a century or more ago, Dark Secrets is a perfect mix of elements with only one hesitation – which is; the author, Delphine Montariol – is French.

Delphine Montariol is a celebrated and known French writer. She is a History graduate. She knows more about English history than you or I ever studied at school. It is this fascination that gives the book and story line its authenticity, and it stands out because of that. Christmas is coming. Worth a read.

ITS PANTOMIME TIME! OH NO IT ISN’T!

We sit back and laugh out loud at this latest rethink of the Offenbach classic, “Orpheus In The Underworld” – and ask; how can we laugh – and be disturbed, at the same time.

You can argue that this “Orpheus….” has everything. It is quite astonishing. It is a fusion of extraordinary drama, of sublime choral sound, of sheep that go ”bah bah” in time to the music; of myriads of balloons, that seem to be the leitmotiv (balloons are everywhere), as a symbol of transitory suspension between two worlds I suppose.

It is Mozart on steroids – a sort of Magic Flute but where there is no happy ending. Which is why you will not take your little kids to this run up to Christmas entertainment. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this performance has “wit and charm” – it is simply seriously funny. But in her chat discussion just a few weeks earlier, director Emma Rice indicated that this is going to be a different take – and she did not disappoint. The melodies of the first Act soon give way to sexual depravity, male hedonism, and the implicit conclusion that if you play with the Devil, then be careful what you wish for.

Except that Eurydice – played by Mary Bevan – has no particular wish to play with the Devil as such. Mary’s melodies, interpretation and dramatic art of her journey from one world to another, and the realisation of what marriage is – are the stand out features of this performance and I found myself reminded of when i first saw her in ”Two Boys” all those years ago, the ability to stand alone on stage and carry the audience with her.

And then we have Alex Otterburn, who was very funny, self-deprecating, as Pluto, with his West Country shepherd accent. A sort of Moliere’s “Tartuffe”. As I travel back to Devon as I write this piece, I would have loved to have seen more of this – but what the heck!

This is a cast of exceptional performers, each contributing vital elements. I loved Ellie Laugharne as Cupid. I could go on.

My first recollection of ENO’s “Orpheus” as a young teenager, used a tube train as the slapstick way to travel between worlds. Emma’s use of a London Taxi and cabbie, for the public opinion, is better, and just so ridiculous, the little things where the taxi does not start, for example.

Perhaps this is why I left the Coliseum excited and yet confused. We take for granted now the edginess of ENO productions, the taking of Opera to its limits. This performance continues that trend cum laude. The mix of elements that really should not go together, or how can anybody even think they go together – but somehow they do – that can deliver not satisfaction but a darker truth?

But again, this is to be picky. This is thought provoking entertainment on so many levels. Just don’t bring the kids, at least not yet.