The King and I. The Classic Musical for all time.

Just to prove that not everything happens in London, our rapidly upcoming blogger and journalist Amelia Grace went to see “The King and I” in the provincial Yorkshire town of Hull,  just a few days ago.  This is what she says:

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Based on the 1941 novel ‘Anna and the King of Siam’, the timeless musical ‘The King and I’ follows Anna, a schoolteacher, as her and her young son Louis emigrate to Siam (now Thailand) to start a new life teaching the King of Siam’s many children. As the opposite personalities and cultures of herself and the King clash, it portrays how even the most unlikely of people can form a strong bond between them.

The musical isn’t shy in tackling big issues such as polygamy and gender inequality which can be explicitly seen through the King’s many wives and the derogatory way he often addresses the women he interacts with. As the audience, we go on a journey with the King as Anna mellows him and causes him to see the way he acts can sometimes be oppressive. They often fight over his unwillingness to treat her as an equal because she’s a woman and he sees her as one of his subjects so therefore she must obey him and bow face on the ground to him whenever she’s in his presence. On the other hand, Anna fights for what she believes in which is equal rights for women and refuses to cower whenever she argues with the King about his treatment of women or when he demands that she bow down at his feet. She does compromise for him like when she moves her position because it offends him if she’s higher than him. However, overall, her passion and commitment to the pursuit of gender equality provides him with a refreshing perspective, considering most of the women he interacts with sycophantically agree with him on everything and would never dream of arguing with him. Although it seems quite ordinary in our modern society to fight for gender equality, it would’ve been very rare to discover a woman like Anna who mirrors some of the earliest feminists like the suffragettes.

It would potentially be dangerous to hold such views about gender inequality so Anna is quite incredible in not only voicing her opinions but fighting for rights as a woman as well. I think the reason the King never reprimands her for arguing with him about women’s rights is because he quite admires her passion and courage and can’t bring himself to harm such a strong, incredible woman. This, for me, is one of the reasons why he falls in love with her and if anyone is worthy of his love, it’s Anna.

Another quite disturbing aspect of the musical is the representation of slavery. Tuptim, a pretty slave girl, is given to the King as a present from the King of Burma. She has no choice but to become one of the King’s wives despite being in love with Lun Tha, the scholar who escorted her there. The couple share stolen kisses and clandestine moments together despite the immense danger they would be in if they were caught. In fact, they are caught by one of the King’s many wives who claims that she won’t tell the King because of how much it will anger and devastate him. However, in view of the punishments they would receive if the King discovered their affair, I was more inclined to believe it was because she would feel too guilty to sentence them both to that suffering. During an embassy visit from the UK, Tuptim performs a play she’s organised herself and the anti slavery message contained within it is very explicit. She and Lun Tha had planned to run away together after the play, however, the king discovers the affair and is enraged. Lun Tha is discovered dead and Tuptim is lead away in chains, screaming for her own suicide because what life is there without her lover being there with her?

The musical ends as the King contracts a deadly illness and is dying slowly. All his loved ones including Anna crowd around his bed, soaking up their last moments with him. It’s a quiet end to an outgoing, fierce character such as the King but I think it reflects his softer side that is concealed deep inside him. In the end, he can’t fight any longer but he has to accept his fate and appreciate the people who love him especially Anna. It feels like a natural end to the musical as he names his son the new King of Siam. One King’s reign ends as another’s journey as King is just beginning..

IS OUR NEW REALITY – A REALLY GOOD IDEA?

It is a fact not commonly understood, that a business that battens down the hatches in times of troubles, will end up in a worse place when the troubles are over – than from where it started. We look at how today’s problems can be tomorrow’s answers.

FIGARO HERE. FIGARO THERE. NOBODY DOES MOZART BETTER THAN ENO.

We review the latest new interpretation of this classic Opera, at London Coliseum’s English National Opera.

The trick in delivering “Marriage of Figaro, is not that everybody knows the story – it is that, it doesn’t matter if they don’t. The opera itself excels when it is just funny, absurd, stupid, ridiculous, – Brian Rix farce with melodies. At what point does an audience get bored watching people hiding behind doors? Actually, – never. They keep laughing. The young couple in front of me told me this was their first ever opera. This was no academic analysis. This was a night out. It does not get better than this. Heavens, don’t we need it at time like this!

This new production minimises the set, to focus on the simple reality of; have lots of doors, have people coming and going, from wherever and whoever, you have no clue. And make sure the singing is tight, crisp, – absolutely choreographed. Simples. Unusually for ENO, the opera opens straightaway into the Overture, there is no clever preamble – and then you understand. As soon as the doors start to open, close, total organised chaos ensues, and it never lets up.

And yet it is clearly more than that. Listening to Hanna Hip in discussion a few weeks earlier talk about her assessment of Cherubino, this opera depends on drama, of the protagonists reaching out to their audience. This is echoed by the complex but deliberate direction – the movement of the singers is like a jigsaw of interlocking and non-interlocking pieces – set against a pure white background of just four doors, that open, and close.

Despite the fact that for several, this was their first night Debut at ENO – Kevin John Edusei as Conductor, Bozidar Smiljanic’s debut as Figaro, and Louise Alder as the standout character Susanna – this delivery is everything that ENO does well, a sort of relaxed but very fast and spot on performance, that combines the many subtle and little touches, and letting the glorious music and melody take you along for the ride.

I loved the interplay of of Figaro and Susanna, and the small choral groupings towards the end of Act 2 were mesmeric. Even the Act 1 choreographed photo-shoots in the Overture, were clever, different, you wanted to lean in and see where all this nonsense is going.

I cane away wanting to come back and see the production for a second time – I am sure like a good movie, I will “get” even more, now that I know what is happening. Then again, who’s to say I will be any the wiser second time around?

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.