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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Buxom Buxton

The dedicated festival patron can have afeast of stimuli if she plans properly. TheBuxton Festival organisers permit a seamlesstransition from one event to another.In two days a spectrum of events candazzle the eyes and overawe the ears. Ornot. I recently sojourned in the highesttown in England.Literary lunchUnder the direction of Roy Hattersley,Buxton has what it calls a ‘literary series’,being a variety of distinguished authorsdiscussing fiction, history, and autobiography.My two days included Douglas Hurddiscussing the political novel and LadyAntonia Fraser considering her new biographyof Marie Antoinette. Questions forthe former were all about his life in politics– thus demonstrating that there is little tosay about the political novel itself. AntoniaFraser gave a tour de force amply illustratingher intellect, humour, and dedicationto her art. What was astounding aboutboth these events, each of which tookplace in the late morning, was the size ofthe audience. People had travelled anhour or more merely to attend one ofthese talks. I had no idea what a magneticformula it was. It’s true there was a Sagalikeatmosphere and I felt joyously youngin the presence of these ageing bibliophiles,but the spirit in the hall was verywarm.Musical afternoonThe first afternoon’s musical offering was arecital by Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo)and Malcolm Martineau (piano), and itwas remarkable for the inclusion of theworld première of a work by AlasdairNicolson (b 1961) called BackwardGlances. A collection of poems by EmilyDickinson, Walt Whitman, and RobertFrost was set to music with wit, charm,and fun. The piano accompanimentsounded tricky, was often percussive andnever dull. I’d like to hear it again. Thisturned out to be the high spot of the day.In a less than full opera house theevening’s performances were The YoungMan with the Carnation by Edward Rushton(b 1972) and Walton’s The Bear. Thefollowing afternoon, with an even sparseraudience, the double bill was Walton’sFaçade and The Soldier’s Tale by Stravinsky.What can I say? All four items were ‘interesting’but I wouldn’t queue up to seethem again. Façade is an infuriating curioand should be confined to an audiomuseum.Four bassoonists provided an educationalmorning recital with a programmecalled A Good Reed. I suppose in a way thisis what festivals are all about. It was illuminating,droll, and surprising (I wasreminded of Dr Johnson’s remark about adog’s walking on its hind legs, although inthis case it was done well), and there wasa clear empathy with the audience. Agood time was had by all.Operatic nightAll of which leaves as the climax of thevisit an operetta by Offenbach called LaPérichole. I have been fond over the years,when given the chance, of telling operavirgins that all opera is about sex anddeath (although not necessarily in thatorder); if there’s no death it’s operetta; ifthere’s no sex then it’s Gilbert and Sullivan.La Périchole meets the operetta definitionand the eponymous female lead, inthe shape of Victoria Simmonds, was soeasy on the eye she completely overcamethe trivial plot and lack of substance in thisfrothy little work. I note that Miss Simmondsis appearing at ENO next season inThe Capture of Troy. Richard Coxon, hermale lead in La Périchole, is also in the newENO season in The Handmaid’s Tale.Between them they won over the(packed) Saturday night audience, as didthe comic baritone, Eric Roberts, who didhis best to steal every scene. Once again,if festivals are about jollification, and someof them are (but not Salzburg), then Buxton’sconcoction does the trick.