Review: The Soldier’s Tale at Kilkenny Arts Festival

Review: The Soldier’s Tale at Kilkenny Arts Festival
Ciarán Hinds took on the task of playing all three main characters.

The double whammy of revolution in Russia and the outbreak of world war in Europe had disastrous financial consequences for Stravinsky.

A further blow was struck when Diaghiliev’s ballet company in Paris with whom he had enjoyed a succès de scandale with the Rite of Spring, went out of business.

Decamping to Switzerland with his TB-stricken wife, he met the similarly impecunious Ferdinand Ramuz. In 1918, the pair collaborated on a short dramatic entertainment based on a Russian folktale with Faustian overtones and recruited seven musicians and three actors with the intention of touring the work.

When the original cast of L’Histoire du Soldat were laid low by the flu epidemic, Stravinsky pulled a suite for clarinet trio out of the wreckage.

On its centenary, the release of a recording of The Soldier’s Tale by Pink Floyd’s frontman, Roger Waters, last year helped bring the original work back into focus.

Kilkenny Arts Festival offered a rare opportunity to hear the original score of the incidental music and libretto in a concert performance as part of the classical music strand.

Dressed in a sombre dark suit, actor Ciarán Hinds took on the task of playing all three main characters — narrator, the devil in various guises, the soldier as well as the king and bloke-in-the-pub.

Standing at a lectern on a subtly lit stage, Hinds gave a virtuoso performance bringing every part to life with an engaging range of accents and tones, declaiming rather than merely reading Jeremy Sams’ lively translation.

The only role not filled by Hinds was that of Princess. Here dancer Emily Ayers added an element of graceful choreography and a flourish of theatricality to the endeavour.

Sharing the stage, seven musicians of the Northern Ireland-based Fews Ensemble directed from the violin by Joanne Quigley McParland, gave a spirited account of Stravinsky’s score.

I particularly enjoyed the interplay between Éanna Monaghan’s bassoon and Neyire Ashworth’s clarinet.

There was plenty in the fiendish detail to delight in the hour-long anti-war piece.

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