Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Soldiers Tale, April 30 to May 10, 2008

 The Soldiers Tale 
by Igor Stravinsky & CF Ramuz, by Hayloft Project
Abbottsford Convent, 8pm Wed to Sat, April 30 to May 10, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Igor Stravinsky might not recognise his 1918 version of The Soldier’s Tale in Michael Robinson’s interpretation for The Hayloft Project.  

He stages this Faustian myth in a seedy bar constructed inside an abandoned church during World War One. Aptly, the venue is the disused Sacred Heart Chapel, Abbottsford Convent.

“The music is played exactly as it was written but the context is different,” says Robinson. He wanted a more visceral aesthetic than the original version of this Faustian tale. Composed by Stravinsky with verse by Swiss poet C.F. Ramuz, it was read, not performed, by actors standing at lecterns before a chamber orchestra.

Robinson’s concept, which had its first life in a Carlton bar, takes advantage of every arch and apse in the unconventional Chapel space. The characters become part of the action in this roughhouse bar.

The Devil is a collaborator, wartime scrounger and profiteer (David Whiteley) who established the cabaret bar in the church. “He buys sausage from the Germans, to trade for wine from the French, to buy bullets from the English, to sell back to the Germans.”

The Narrator (Frank Gallacher) is the barman and the Dancer (Bonnie Paskas), who originally appeared only at the end, is the barman’s moll. Even the seven-piece orchestra, usually separate from the drama, is integrated as the burlesque-cabaret band.

The unwitting Soldier, (Mark Winter) is under siege. This unholy trio launches a three-pronged attack, tempting him to gamble his soul in exchange for a book that can bring him wealth.

“He walks off the battlefield into this place but he doesn’t know what it is. It is a Purgatory. These people connive to take his soul away…lead the soldier into fantasies and use this to bend him to their will.”

Stravinsky’s music, played by The Orchestra Project, is eclectic and evocative of happier times, says Robinson, incorporating contentious contemporary music of 1918 including the salacious tango and popular ragtime. Stravinsky chose the haunting strains of the violin to represent the Soldier’s soul.

After the Great War, says Robinson, “They were without concert halls, without orchestras and money. (Stravinsky) could not do the shows that he did with Diaghelev - ballets with 110-piece orchestras.” So he wrote for seven instruments: double bass, violin, trumpet, trombone, bassoon, clarinet and percussion. 

Given Stravinsky’s progressiveness, he would be thrilled by this innovative contemporary interpretation of The Soldier’s Tale.

By Kate Herbert  

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