Lucia Di Lammermoor. A Story for Our Times


We review the English National Opera first night of this dramatic Donizetti masterpiece and say that – in the “MeToo” current world,  this is a production you have to see.

There are academic articles and opinions of the role of women and heroines and Prima Donnas in Opera, into which the creation of “Lucia” as an Opera, is designed to play a part.  This comment is not one of those. If you “get” that the fusion of music, and drama, is the key entry into deeper areas of  our soul – then the standout performance of Sarah Tynan as “Lucia” is one of the most phenomenal performances I have ever seen in all my years of watching opera.  This is a performance that you have to see, and you must say to your grandchildren that “you were there”.

How so?

Because Sarah’s interpretation rises above the protagonists around her, the wall of never decreasing orchestral and chorus support. It is a tour de force because right from the start, there was never any gentle introduction. There is angst even from the first scene. There was never going to be a happy ending.

This feeling of tragic helplessness, is enhanced by the oversized dimensions of the staging, with Lucia deliberately petite, vulnerable.

This “Lucia di Lamermoor” is drama supported by music. In many ways, the music never reaches the heights of melody of Mozart – or better insight into human nature of say Puccini, or Berlioz – and at times I just wished there was a melody that I could remember on the tube train back to my hotel. The music frequently pauses and moves into one aria after another, but it is not until the last Act does Lucia’s aria steal the show, so to say.

But this misses the point.

This production, particularly with Eleazar Rodriguez complementing Sarah with visible chemistry, is about drama and human emotion. It is riveting. At no point does the intensity ever stop, and at no time does audience appreciation ever waver. 

If you asked random people in the street, who would be their favourite composer – the name of Donizetti would hardly figure. And this is a pity. “Lucia” portrays humanity and the female situation, in a way that has hardly changed even now. I am going back to see this again – and so should you.

ENO; OPERA FOR ALL. It has always been thus…


We look with pleasure and amazement at the past 50 years of English National Opera  at their Gala Performance earlier this week.


I am fifteen years old. My cousin – who is at least five years older and a real Student – calls me. “Hey – I have two tickets for The Mastersingers. Wanna come?”


I don’t know what a Mastersinger is – and I say so. “It’s an Opera”, he says. I don’t know what one of those is either, but now is not the time for that discussion. “Sure” – I say: – “I’ll come straight from school”. The performance starts at 5pm apparently. It means catching the suburban bus, the local train into london, the tube to Islington. The place is somewhere called Sadlers Wells.


I hadn’t given much thought to this. Only when I got to the opera venue did I realise that The Mastersingers is some five hours long. It means hitching a ride back home through London. A local taxi picked me up somewhere in the street as I started walking. I’m sure there are laws about this sort of thing nowadays. I told my Mum the next morning I had a wonderful time.


I didn’t have a wonderful time. I had a change of life experience. I saw people singing and creating a life ambience – from nothing. I felt emotions I never knew existed. I discovered I could go to the pub on the corner and buy a shandy, no questions-asked. I could wear my jeans at somewhere posh. I could visualise a new musical dimension.


My cousin called me some 50 years later. “Did you get those tickets for the new production of The Mastersingers?.” This time, we are the ENO Coliseum, the grandeur, the sense of a journey as the orchestra starts to play – has not lost any of its ability to stir up excitement.


And that is the secret of ENO Opera for All. Once you walk through that door – there is no turning back.


The idea espoused by the current ENO Management that this is some new concept – is beautiful in its outreach, but it misses the point that ENO was always this. The only difference is not concept but one of scale.


The ENO Gala Performance brought together established Artists, but also showcased the upcoming Harewood Performers, who are every bit as exhilarating, – and finally focussing on the latest ENO prodigy who is still at School just finishing GCSEs. The future of ENO belongs to the new people, who are young enough to have completely new ideas and ambitions, better and newer communication skills.


Key at ENO is to be the Family. The Drop Off point at whatever stop you have reached on your opera journey. This is not a London based chic concept for SW1 – this is for pan -UK.


I sat next to two people at the Gala, who by total chance are the neighbours to my Music Professor when I was at Uni. We had never met before, but it was like a meeting of old friends, the strands of common ground, across different generations.


I took a moment of thought; if only my new neighbours in the Stalls had been there all those fifty years ago – perhaps they could have given me a ride home?
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Can We Celebrate 70 Years of the NHS?


As increasing numbers of ordinary people move away from this cherished institution – we ask the question – why do they do so?

This is not about private medicine and public services. The UK NHS and its principle guardian of healthcare – free to all – at the point of delivery – is the cornerstone of just about every UK and European belief that healthcare is a public right – not something that you only get if you can afford it.

Fair enough.

The problem is when you put that into practice for the ordinary lives of people like you and I. The principle might be ok but – well, if other places are offering something better, and its within our price range, we are going to choose whatever that something else is.

And so they do.

At the recent Employee Benefit Fair in London just a couple of weeks ago, of the 115 Exhibitors, some 30% were all offering private walk in Doctors facilities.  And the services they were offering were better, than their NHS counterparts, particularly in areas that can be monitored remotely by smart technology on the wrist of all of us. As the provision of healthcare moves away from hospitals into a more community based environment, if for just a few bucks a  month, say you can have your diabetes monitored every day, in real time – or your heart and blood pressure similarly managed – does it matter that you never get to see a real Nurse?  All you want is the Nurse to call you when things look wrong – and for you to be able to drop by as you pass thru the local train station en route to work.

So why do so few NHS Hospitals and CCGs want to adopt similar practices?

The problem is twofold; if we can  solve a specific problem, with  technology, using half the nurses – then we can schedule the remaining nurses somewhere else where there is a greater need. Except that clinical grass roots staff have a fear of change and a fear of losing their job. And Managers have a fear of losing their nurses – and their silo based budgets.  As long as they have lots of people coming through those hospital doors – the money will keep rolling in.

And second – we regularly get emails and responses from NHS senior Managers saying;  “Sure, come by for a conversation, but not for a conversation that means we have to do something”. There is this misplaced belief among so many NHS Managers that as things have always been done this way – then life will continue to be done this way.

Not any more.  

We are seeing already that the public is voting with its feet. Sure, its a small beginning – but its a beginning none the less. As a senior more enlightened NHS Director told me – “we cannot keep trying to squeeze 100 appointments into the time reserved for only 40”.

There will become a time, sooner rather than later, when the public itself will start to wonder why they are paying any money for public healthcare at all. By then of course, it will be too late.

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IS DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION MISSING THE POINT?

We focus on the upcoming IP Expo Europe Conference at Excel London  and ask the question – are consumers being left behind? 

If so, this would be a pity. It is no coincidence that IP Expo Europe is just a few days before the Chinese IRC Retail Conference also in London, whose view is;  With the challenge of slowing retail sales, international expansion is key to maintaining double-digit growth.

The emergence of the Chinese eCommerce market, in a country whose GDP is constantly growing, is a clear opportunity to Re:Generate retail. Today’s QiXi day – the Chinese equivalent to Valentine’s day – is poised to generate record growth in international eCommerce sales. In other words, ECOMMERCE can drive retail.

The problem is, that’s not how ordinary people are viewing this. It’s not just Consumers, although there is  a dawn of realisation in the minds of the general public that the great benefit of online retail might also be killing the social high street that binds society together.  Maybe going shopping wasn’t so bad after all?  When one third of all the things that people buy online, are routinely returned to their sender – and there are more charity shops than thriving retailers – perhaps we are missing something in the way we describe and market “digital transformation”. Transformation might not necessarily be for the better.

The same feeling is also spreading into our public sectors; increasingly we are seeing new “digital transformation” labelled projects, that are little more than typing our patient records into someone’s Windows 7 desktop.  The NHS has “ringfenced” (oh please, don’t be naive) – money for “digital transformation” that will simply throw money at projects its hospitals were going to do anyway.  Digital Transformation is great PR.

At a time when emails no longer carry the same immediacy as they originally did – and it is now better to communicate sending something called a Letter in the mail – are we missing the point in thinking that everybody of course knows what blockchain is? Or are we blinded by selling technology to ourselves, when we are forgetting that what people want are the benefits of said technology? What that  technology is  – is irrelevant.

And that’s the point. IP Expo Europe  is not addressing consumers. It is a platform for the vendors of said technology, to show us the best ways of delivering business benefit.  We as “consumers” of technology should know how to translate that into something our own customers will understand. But to get there – we need the face to face, the casual conversation, the in depth presentation – with our peers – that will show us better ways to get where we ourselves need to go.

This may in turn reflect back into our struggling retail market, as long as it is a catalyst for methodology change, marketing people to get together. In short, the key to overall success, is a mix of the two -ECOMMERCE drives face to face retail.

We expect the greater awareness of vendors and delegates at IP Expo Europe will bear fruit in the change in the way vendors market what they do, and organisations handle their consumer data, in particular, becoming more open to international business – which will in turn drive the very retail sectors that are under pressure. 

If so, then Digital Transformation can start to create social good in the very areas that have been left behind. 

DOES DOING NOTHING – ACTUALLY WORK?

At a time when employers have only recently discovered that offering unpaid internships is bordering on the immoral – we ask; are there times when doing things for free – actually work?

The surprising answer is – actually yes it might. But there have to be clear reasons and clear benefits that you can touch and feel. So, – having started at the end of this piece, let’s go back to the beginning.

The timing of this article is set to coincide with the new wave of young hopefuls who graduate from our universities every year, and who are unprepared for life’s work experience. It’s not to say they themselves have not been working. But this time, we are talking about earning a living. Its a different sort of work, less idealistic, more practical, and it can be where we get our first dose of cynical reality.

This is the launchpad of this article. The lack of experience on the part of our young people leaves them open to accepting “work” that is neither paid nor even useful, and can be seriously demotivating. But it does not have to be like that, and as said above, there are options that make doing things “for free” do work out. So the question is; how do you know?

We have set out a GuideLine that sets out the options, and there are basically three choices:

1. Working as unpaid internment. Absolutely never, on any account, accept this sort of nonsense. The key thing to remember in Life is that you have a value, and not just a spiritual value. Your “employer” is making use of your services, and they are a business, not a charity. Likewise, so are you. Your value is what people are prepared to pay in real money. Disregard, and walk away, from any company that gives the bullshit of “good experience”, “working with your peers”, and so on. We have found at every stage in our business and corporate relationsships, that if a company wants you, they will put money on the table. Please be arrogant, you are worth it.

2. Minimum salary first placement. Yes this can work, as long as you can actually afford to live. This is where both parties accept they are taking a risk – yours is you don’t know if your skills fit the work; and in essence the same for the employer. If the salary means you cannot afford to even rent a place, anywhere – then think again. But on the flip side – be realistic; living with Mum and Dad is not so bad, as a short term solution if it gets you on the ladder of your chosen career or enables you to decide you never wanted that career in the first place. 90% of all graduates quit their first job within the first year of work.

3. Make a clear choice that doing work for nothing for someone – can get you somewhere you want to be, – let’s say industry recognition, or even the dreaded “experience”. But absolutely make sure that this option costs you no money whatsoever. Feel free to give your time, as your investment in the process. Just be clear – you are making an Investment, and there has to be a Return on that Investment.

We at ProfoMedia every now and then write articles to support companies we believe in, for free, because we too gain from a greater good.

But let’s get back to reality. As a rule of thumb, never forget that you and your work are worth something, and that “something” is what pays your food bill every month.

A FANTASTIC BUZZ AT ENO’S LATEST “MARRIAGE OF FIGARO”!

We review the latest Figaro production at the London Coliseum

Mozart operas at ENO always have fantastic and clever beginnings. If the word “tangential “ applies to probably every ENO production and approach, then last night’s Figaro did not disappoint.

The imagery of a bumble bee trapped inside a harpsichord syncing into the rapid overture, sets the scene, and with a driving orchestra and some standout ensemble and solo performances, especially from Rhian Lois, making her role debut as Susanna, this was a performance that whilst taking just a little time to really get going – absolutely left its audience spellbound. I have always said that, for newcomers to opera, make sure you go to an ENO Mozart performance – then this production (and it was the second time I have seen it) – came alive. You got to go.

So why a difference? You could argue that Figaro of all operas, is the easiest to get along with. Nobody does a bad Figaro. And that misses the point, because yes indeed you can do a boring Figaro. The real trick is to engage with the audience, and this takes subtlety, exquisite direction, timing of humour and of music and dramatic art – all of which this performance has in spades. And it plays to mature opera-goers as well as newbies; my colleagues alongside me were humming along to the melodies, that everyone knows – but we all wanted to hear. The timing particularly of Lucy Crowe, debuting as the Countess, excelled in her “dove sono i bei momenti” aria.

What is there to love?

Sure, the visual complexity of the revolving stage creates the confusion and the rapid movement of players as the drama speeds along, compounds that – but the secret sauce of this production is the speed of the orchestra, that forces the pace.

This in turn forces the key protagonists, particularly in the close ensembles, to be rock solid in timing and harmony – and they belt out their parts. Each player has a point to make. nobody takes any prisoners in this performance but surprisingly, the performance is actually funny! I found myself LOL at the absurdity of it all, and how many times have I seen this opera?

Whilst every singer/performer absolutely does justice to their respective roles – the standout performance that is the glue that links the others – has to be Rhian Lois who has nothing to fear in commanding the big Coliseum stage. Rhian is a Harewood Artist and she reminds me of Mary Bevan in her role in Cosi Fan Tutte.

The ENO bars are closed by the time the performance finished, which is a pity. I took a glass of wine at the adjacent St Martins Hotel hidden gin bar. At times like this, you need to raise your glass.

ENO SCORE ANOTHER HIT!

We look in wonderment at one of ENO’s best productions yet of this classic modern masterpiece.

Alexander Soddy strides into the orchestra pit, waves and encourages his team, and then there is silence for a full five seconds. And then we are off! And its a strange, curious, beginning…

This is redolent of the performance of Wagner’s ”The Mastersingers” a few years earlier; the feeling somehow that this will be the epic performance – when everything goes right. That night, at the end of five hours, all the orchestra hugged each other at the finale. And so it was last night. From whatever opera or music background you come from, this is a performance you have to see.

The secret sauce of this production is the fluidity, sensibility, and sheer forcefulness and continuation of the orchestra – which allows the drama to experiment, to be funny, aggressive, romantic, and convey sincere emotion – without ever losing sight of the fact that essentially, this opera is a dream.

The whole stage is one giant bed. The production relies on the singers/actors/actresses hopping from bed to stage, from awake to asleep, from fantasy to reality. The melodic lines of the music never give away anything you can hum along to, no nice chord progressions and cadences; there is this sense of being suspended somewhere and indeed the third act is precisely that – the three beds suspended in mid air.

And then there is the humour which is less rather than more, – subtle at its best. My standout performance was Eleanor Dennis as Helena, very similar to Mary Bevan some years earlier, also a former Harewood Artist.

But this is to be picky; all of the singing, the characterisation, the direction, was spot on, an integrated whole. Sometimes, particularly at the end of the second act, the drama and clever direction took your breath away

The humour reached its peak at the finale. This was the nearest we got to traditional Shakespeare productions and slapstick humour. It reminded me of the last time I saw this, in Devon – just a couple of years ago.

The difference here – is that the music adds the extra dimension, at times searing, to force the drama.

And then Puck wraps it up… we are back to the original Shakespeare lines…

Was I dreaming? I have no idea. But I am still rubbing my eyes. I can’t believe it.