Out of a war-torn era of our past, from a country of island-like isolation and into our very own Eastman School of Music, comes the classic musical drama known as “The Soldier’s Tale.”
A powerful story of good versus evil, “The Soldier’s Tale” was a collaboration between the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky and Swiss poet and writer C. F. Ramuz.
“The Soldier’s Tale” was originally designed to need only a small group of players, with the intention of eventually being able to travel and perform throughout villages in Switzerland.
The piece, which premiered almost 85 years ago, on Sept. 28, 1918, tells the story of a soldier returning to his home village after a great war who is hoodwinked by an old man into trading his soul – represented as a violin – for a book foretelling the future.
The soldier soon discovers that the bargain was more than it seemed. The old man was the Devil himself, tricking him out of his soul and his happiness.
This fable of the struggle between light and dark continues, and chronicling the soldier’s travel through a new world, the loss of his old one and his fight to get it back.
Brian Russell, a masters’ student at Eastman, will be conducting this short but beautiful piece. It is not only the enthusiastic guidance and vision of Russell but also the great cast that he has called together that has helped this show come together, quickly becoming something to be remembered.
Dean of the Eastman School of Music James Undercofler will be reading the part of the Narrator, although one would not usually see this man on stage.
However, in this case, Undercofler made an exception. “‘The Soldier’s Tale’ is one of the great pieces by Stravinsky – an incredibly dramatic piece,” he said.
So, when he was asked by an enthusiastic and talented student if he would like to play a part in one of his favorite pieces – Undercofler said he simply “couldn’t say no.”
Julia Figueras, Music Director and announcer for WXXI, will be playing the role of the Devil. Both Undercofler and Russell feel that Figueras brings an extra edge to her performance, making her the perfect villain.
Finally, recent Eastman graduate and current announcer for WXXI Oliver Henderson will play the part of the soldier.
But the voices are only a part of this excellent production.
If one considers Russell as the mind and the players as the body of the piece, then the soul would have to be the music.
In this piece, Stravinsky chose to use a seemingly small and eclectic assortment of instruments consisting of clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, violin, double bass and percussion.
Such an ensemble enabled him to create a score with sounds of jazz, ragtime and the classical forms, blended together to produce a sound singular and full of expression that carries and enhances the story’s words and meanings.
Throughout the piece, the music, which is more tonal than many of Stravinsky’s earlier works, is reminiscent of other types of music such as popular French songs, Lutheran chorales, the Argentinean tango, the Viennese waltz and even the American ragtime.
Ironically, Stravinsky failed to recognize the sounds of jazz present in this piece, once saying, “I could imagine jazz, or at least I like to think so,” a year after the piece was premiered.
The instruments are played by none other than select and talented Eastman students.
In the words of Undercofler, “the musicians are outstanding – really a first class group.”
“The Soldier’s Tale” is a story replete with symbolism and bursting with meaning and emotion. But there is one question that remains – does the wretched soldier ever win back his lost soul?
To find out, go to Kilbourn Hall at 26 Gibbs Street, Thursday, Sept. 18th at 8 p.m. This hour-long show is free and open to the public, and promises to be a wonderful production not to be missed.
Bozzella can be reached at email@example.com.