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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Jenny Twigg and her daughter Tib

On Easter Sunday I found myself communingwith nature on Fountains EarthMoor in Nidderdale enjoying the companyof Jenny Twigg and her daughterTib, two massive stones standing on theheath in the clear air 400 metres abovesea-level. The silence was broken only bythe startled, clattering grouse and the roarof Yorkshire’s finest youth, leather-cladand mounted on their 2-stroke scramblers.What an imaginative way it is toappreciate the birdsong, the ripple of thebecks, and the haunting scenery byhurtling as if a sandstorm along the quiet,stony tracks of an area of such breathtakingbeauty. In the moments of calm Icontemplated the production of LadyMacbeth of Mtsensk I had seen at CoventGarden three nights earlier.Shostakovich was only 26 when hewrote the opera and for two years itdelighted Moscow. Its anarchy and blackhumour is set against music of great precociousnesswhich parodies many familiarstyles including Richard Strauss and Mussorgsky.Its fate, and fame, was sealed in1936 when Stalin attended a performanceand walked out shocked by the sex andviolence. What did he expect from opera?He missed two scenes of importance byleaving early. The caricature of a policeinspector and his officers is just minimsaway from the police chorus in The Piratesof Penzance; the final tableau of transportedconvicts in Siberia is chilling in itsbrutishness. Had Stalin seen these scenes Isuspect Shostakovich would have endedup there himself with the assistance ofsome very unfunny policeman.The orchestra under Antonio Pappanoplayed Shostakovich’s imaginative scorewith great vibrancy. It would seem thatPappano’s tenure as music director isbearing tasty fruit. Pride of place must gothe bassoonist, whose famous detumescentportamento signified the end of thehanky-panky, behind a wobbling wardrobe,between the heroine and her adulterousbit of rough. Katarina Dalayman asthe eponymous Katerina Ismailova wasquite outstanding with a strong supportingcast. My real wonder was reserved forthe director Richard Jones, whose works Ihave excoriated in the past. Perhaps I’mgetting older – or he is – but the productionmade such perfect sense, was so richly funny and tragic in turns, and wasstaged so brilliantly in the USSR ofthe1950s that I forgive him all his earliersins.IntoleranceMy mention of DW Griffith a few monthsago and a review of world affairsprompted me to buy a DVD of Intolerance(Love’s Struggle though the Ages). Fourstories are interwoven to produce a filmthat all politicians and clerics shouldwatch. We see the fall of Belshazzar’sBabylon because of the treachery of Baal’spriests who were intolerant of the goddessIshtar. Then Griffith tells the story of JesusChrist. In the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacrehe depicts Catherine de Medici’s discriminationagainst Huguenots. The fabricof the film is held together by a contemporaryfictional tale which does have ahappy ending but spares the reputationsof few in the web of greed and fake compassion.Thanks to the wonders of moderntechnology it’s possible to see the fourstories as separate entities – but why? Thedelight of the film is the intertwiningbetween the tension and suspense in themodern saga and the predictability of thecrucifixion; the contrast between theintrigue and oppressive nature of CharlesIX’s court and the splendour and grandeurof Babylon. And a ‘colossal spectacle’ it is.Why did it not become a success?Europe, of course, was otherwise engagedin 1916 and presumably knew enoughabout intolerance in its own backyard notto want to watch a film about it. Was theheavy attack on modern capitalism byGriffith too much for America? If theStatue of Liberty embodies anything it istolerance so perhaps it was the length ofthe film (three hours) that was just toomuch for the audience. Birth of a Nation ayear earlier was wholly about their country.Was Intolerance too alien and exoticfor contemporary American taste?If you have the time and inclination seeit, marvel at the scale of Griffith’s effortand compare it with The Lord of the Ringsby Peter Jackson, listen to the creative theatreorgan accompaniment, and be captivatedby Constance Talmadge, a teenagesilent star from another era. Then send theDVD to your chosen world or religiousleader.