Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Philharmonic Orchestra: Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale / Review

STRAVINSKY The Soldier’s Tale
The Philharmonic Orchestra & Actors
LIM YAU, Conductor
JAY ESPAÑO, Director
Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (12 July 2009, 7.30 pm)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 July 2009.

In a unique collaboration between local classical musicians and actors, Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (Histoire du Soldat) – a 1918 theatre piece for two actors, a narrator, a dancer and seven musicians - was fertile soil for experimentation and discovery.

The story is a simple but ageless one, a down-and-out soldier sells his violin to the Devil for a book that spells fortune and wealth, and loses his soul forever. With Lim Yau (left) conducting a small band from the Philharmonic Orchestra on one side of the stage, the music was one of pared down simplicity but strictest rhythmic rigour.

Stravinsky’s (left) then-obsession with jazz and popular dance forms found fruition in this score, which vibrantly accompanied and helped convey the story and mood beyond mere words. The solos were performed at a high level, particularly Kathleen Koh’s pivotal violin, Li Xin’s insinuating clarinet and strong percussion support from Tan Chui Ling.

Centre of stage was dominated by Christopher Ong Yadao’s Devil and Kamal Abdul Rahim’s Soldier. The burly Yadao surely looked too young to play the part, but surprised with his chameleon-like ability to convincingly shift between roles - an old man with a butterfly net, cackling hag, king and a priest with an evil smile. His brand of malevolence was to taunt and tease, suggest and beguile, rather than to strike plain terror. Kamal’s Soldier was earnest but foolishly optimistic, and hence the perfect bait.

Charles Ramuz’s text was faithfully retained throughout, with some nods for local interest including a sales pitch in kampong Malay and reference to the Sultan of Brunei’s riches. Matt Grey’s narration was clear and moved the plot well.

Dancer Theresa Chan played the ailing Princess, revived by the soldier to dance the tango, waltz and ragtime. She also doubled as stagehand and in the final part, her few lines was enough temptation to lure the Soldier back to the Devil’s domain, and to their ultimate demise. Like the biblical Eve, she acted as the Devil’s left hand. Even if “the Devil always gets his man”, man’s downfall is often borne by a weakness for the fairer sex.

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