Concert review: Musicians and dancers shine in Stravinsky melodrama

It was the First World War that caused a paradigm shift in the scope of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s compositions. The large orchestra in The Rite Of Spring (1913) had shrunk to just seven musicians for his melodrama The Soldier’s Tale (1918), based on the Faustian tale by Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz. In an all-new production commissioned, directed and conducted by local conductor Adrian Tan, staged at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Saturday, the emphasis was on music and movement, with the story told by choreographer-cum-narrator Timothy Colemen and three dancers from the Singapore Dance Theatre. The script by Michael Flanders and Kitty Black was heavily edited and adapted to keep the action flowing and taut. In stark contrast to the opulence and dissonance of The Rite, Stravinsky had turned to jazz and popular dance music in this score, along the path to his neoclassical phase. Textures were lightened, with musical language kept plain and direct for the work’s discrete but continuous movements. It was in this milieu that the musicians, which included clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, double bass and percussion, headed by Loh Jun Hong’s violin, shone. His was a virtuoso role that encapsulated the soul of the Soldier, whom despite his conscience and resistance eventually succumbs to the entreaties of the Devil, represented by Iskandar Rashid’s percussion. Along the way, the music included marches, a pastorale, tango, waltz and ragtime, all rendered in the inimitable and catchy manner of the Russian composer. The dancers were excellent throughout, with Stefaan Morrow’s Soldier, more athletic than martial in his khaki fatigues, as chief protagonist. Opposite him, Nazer Salgado’s Devil was slickness personified, his whiter-than-white showman’s outfit concealing all sorts of dark secrets. Beatrice Castaneda’s Princess was a smaller part, delivered with grace and some playfulness. As with such stories, there is a cautionary tale: One cannot alter the past. One shot at happiness is all you will get. Man can never be satisfied, and that is when the Devil invariably gains his foothold. Conductor Tan’s conception of interdisciplinary collaboration was a success in all counts, all’s the pity that it was witnessed by a modest-sized audience. With minimal publicity and held on the same evening as a Singapore Symphony Orchestra gala concert and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there was always a risk of being crowded out.