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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Peaks of excellence

adly, I now find the experience of the cinema distressing and await the release of films either on television or DVD. It is true that there are some exceptional venues, including the Tivoli in Wimborne, which are a pleasure to attend but I find the awful multiplex a trial of Inquisitorial proportions. Room 101 for me is the smell of popcorn inhaled as one treads a carpet bestrewn with the detritus of modern eating habits followed by close contact with an audience having the collective attention span of a gnat and the need to eat and speak during anything other than episodes of noisy, blood-spattered, mindless violence. Perhaps my hyperbolic outburst is de trop but the fact is I eschew the excitement of new films on the large screen and hunker down with a glass of wine at home.So it was that I watched Jamie Foxx’s performance as singer Ray Charles in the 2004 biopic Ray. This extraordinary characterisation enabled Foxx to pick up the best actor award at last year’s Oscar ceremonies and I relished this movie intensely. At no time did I believe I was watching anyone other than Ray Charles. The sentimentality is not over-pitched, it is never maudlin and, if you like his type of music, the soundtrack is a delight. I confess that I subscribe to the devil incarnate’s digital service for both film and cricket and thus was also privileged in March to witness history in the making. Herschel Gibbs contributed to what is now called the greatest One Day International ever as South Africa beat Australia in a nail-biting, heart-stopping thriller.

Under the spellOn a weekend visit to Spain, and perhaps because of the rain, I found a once great city rather less than pretty. Granada is choked with car fumes and seems to squat like a wheezy beggar at the foot of the old palace. But nothing can decry the majesty of the Alhambra and I was awed during my first visit to this lofty memorial of great Arab architecture. The ornate decoration in the Nasrid Palaces is breathtaking, the place echoes with the shades of once omnipotent sultans and I tried to imagine the music that might have been heard within the walls. The Parador Hotel in the grounds, a converted 15th-century convent, served tasty and extraordinary goat stew for a notable lunch.

Star-litThe Royal Opera’s latest production of Eugene Onegin scales another artistic peak and a packed Friday night crowd was at fever pitch. Apparently, Pushkin is to Russia as Shakespeare and Goethe to England and Germany. I cannot confirm this as I speak no Russian, but I do know that Tchaikovsky’s adaptation of the story has stood the test of time. Covent Garden’s highly-coloured staging with its sumptuous costumes was a pleasure to the eye but I was apprehensive because I have never seen a production that really left me moved throughout. The usual showstoppers are Tatyana’s letter scene and Lensky’s aria, and in all previous productions these were indeed the high spots with little between. But this was different.Tchaikovsky planned that the first production be produced by amateurs because he did not want to compete head on with Verdi’s Aida and other contemporaneous works. In a sense he wanted a chamber interpretation but, eventually, great voices played the roles and the composer was it seems quite happy with the result. The cast at the Royal Opera was stellar. Would it work? Well, the chorus rose to the occasion and Nino Surguladze as Tatyana’s sister Olga was for me an immediate hit. I have been a groupie of Amanda Roocroft since her first professional role in 1990 with the Welsh National Opera but for some reason she did not thrill with her singing as much as she has in the past. The letter scene was very well acted but a certain spark was missing and the audience reflected this in the curtain calls. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was very convincing as a young Onegin and then in Act III more so as he doffed his wig, displayed his natural, distinguished, grey hair and sang yet more magnificently. The key question was the nature of Rolando VillazÓn’s Lensky. At the interval there were mutterings about the suitability of his very Italianate voice for the part and even as a non-speaker I detected that his Russian accent in the first half was execrable. But when the moment came he delivered the big aria magnificently. Maybe Tchaikovsky did not see it this way but his music thrilled under the tenor’s artistry. And just as I thought it could not get better along came Eric Halfvarson to deliver Prince Gremin’s aria. I’ve often found this tedious and anti-climactic but Halfvarson’s great bass voice emerged fortissimo as tuneful thunder.I’m sure this will be an ROH core production for years to come and it’s a delight.