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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Pole position

The Penrose report was bound to stir metaphors in my mind and the aptness of Götterdämmerung is almost irresistible. But the preliminary opera to Der Ring des Nibelungen is the equally appropriate Das Rheingold which I saw in the refurbished Coliseum a week or so after the publication of the report. Let’s deal with the really good news first. English National Opera’s makeover of the building is impressive and the huge auditorium is now complemented by masses of foyer and bar space on all levels. It does not try to compete with the Royal Opera House and nor should it. The theatre itself looks magnificent in its original Edwardian splendour and the nooks and crannies in the public areas still have real intimacy and interest despite the extra capacity. But champagne is £10 per glass – a fact which brings us back to Rhinegold.It’s a post-modern, post-Parmalat, post-Enron production which means there is much anachronistic symbolism and any attempt to interpret the story as devised by Wagner is doomed. The tone is set by an excellent programme essay by Will Hutton in which it is clear that we are observing a morality play about ‘lust, overweening ambition, riches and the desire to conquer’. He savages those whose ‘greed and ambition (have) turned them into moral dwarves’ and reminds the City audience reading the programme of their own probable ‘wrestling with moral consciences’ as they pull off ‘the deal laced with personal enrichment on a scale the rest of us can scarcely conceive’. That cutting expression, moral dwarves, indicates how we are to perceive Alberich, the dwarfish head of the Nibelungs and the nemesis of the gods. The latter, Wotan and his extended dysfunctional family, appear to be corruptible senior City management folk living in a loft conversion whilst Valhalla is being built by the giants Fasolt and Fafner, seen here as Bob the dodgy builder and his brother. The Rhine maidens are pole dancers in a night club. And so it goes on. The one inspired novelty was to have Erda, the earth-goddess and source of the entire world’s wisdom, pop up in seat E26 of the stalls. She was a member of the public, one of us! And warned the godlike directors on stage as if they were the board and she were speaking as a shareholder, or policyholder, at an AGM. Now that is topical and relevant. But I shall probably not pursue the hidden messages in the remaining operas as it’s irksome.We began with the theatre in total darkness and those famous E flat major chords emerged from watery depths with real anticipation. After two-and-a-half hours (no interval) the climax did not pack the punch it should have. It may have been that despite my own pole position at the front of the dress circle I was in one of the infamous musical dead spots in the auditorium but I suspect my slight disappointment was because of the stage business taking place at the time. As A-list celebrities the gods departed to their new home amid the flash of press cameras and sang sound-bites to the paparazzi. The bridge they crossed to reach Valhalla was of the rope variety so beloved of film directors wanting to create unbearable tension – literally. This one was decidedly precarious and very distracting as they wobbled to their new home. Apart from a last-minute substitute the cast was on top form. Tom Randle’s Loge was mischievous and suitably mercurial; John Graham-Hall was a clever, whinging brow-beaten Mime; Andrew Shore devilishly malevolent as Alberich; and Robert Hayward a Wotan with enough doubts to suggest future tragedy. Linda Richardson, Stephanie Marshall, and Ethna Robinson as the Rhine Maidens sounded well, had great legs, seemed to understand the mechanics of pole-dancing, and were thus appropriate objects of Alberich’s unsurprising lust. Overall it was a very good evening. I await the sequels with interest when I may discover that Valhalla is a villa in València.