Tribute to Igor Stravinsky for the 50th anniversary of his death
Histoire du soldat
To be told, played, and danced
music Igor’ Stravinskij
script Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz
Italian version Giusi Checcaglini and Luca Micheletti
Tre pezzi per clarinetto solo (1918)
by Igor’ Stravinskij
direction and concept Luca Micheletti
concertazione and conduction Angelo Bolciaghi
The Devil Luca Micheletti
The Soldier Massimo Scola
The Narrator Valter Schiavone
The Princess Lidia Carew
The Devil (danced scenes) Andrea Bou Othmane
violin Daniele Richiedei
clarinet Giuseppe Bonandrini
bassoon Anna Maria Barbaglia
cornet Marco Bellini
trombone Devid Ceste
double bass Gianpiero Fanchini
percussions Francesco Bodini
lighting designer Fabrizio Ballini
sculpturesLuigi Casermieri and Liliana Confortini
assistant director Francesco Martucci
assistant to the stage movements Silvia Illari
coproduction Compagnia teatrale I Guitti, CamerOperEnsemble, Fondazione Ravenna Manifestazioni
When, between 1917 and 1918, “left with nothing, in a foreign land, at the very height of the war”, Igor’ Stravinsky composed the Histoire du soldat, there was an outbreak of Spanish flu. And what was supposed to be a travelling show, suited to the meagre wartime means – few performers and musicians, scenes which could be taken from one town to the next – was confined to a sole performance on September 28, 1918, in the Municipal Theatre of Lausanne, where it revealed its shattering expressive power. The project was funded by Werner Reinhart, a patron of the arts and an amateur musician, to whom Stravinsky dedicated the three pieces for solo clarinet here performed as intermezzo.
Stravinsky drew inspiration from his motherland for the subject, that is to say, from Afanasyev’s collection of Russian tales – especially the tale of the soldier who gets rid of the devil making him drunk, and another tale about a deserter and the devil who manages to steal his soul. Stories which, in truth, with the typical variations of the oral traditions, belong to all the peoples who have known war. Stravinsky and writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz combined such stories while they focused on the Faustian theme of the Man who relinquishes his soul to the devil (symbolized by the violin) in exchange for goods and riches, thus emphasizing its universal meaning.
The resulting work is not easy to classify: it cannot be described as an opera nor a ballet nor a play in music. It rather appears as a tale “illustrated” by music, scenes, and actions where every element has independent meaning and existence; all considered, it breaks with the 19th-century opera tradition and yet possesses a rare theatrical strength.
Together with a handful of instruments, a kind of condensed chamber orchestra, the narrator plays a primary role on the stage: as it happens in the best folk tradition, the narrator has to represent the tale of the soldier on leave whom the Devil persuades to give up his old violin in exchange for a magic book which can enrich its owner predicting the future. But the three days the soldier and the Devil spend together turn out to be three years. The soldier finds himself estranged from his own past and loved ones; he does not know what to do with the wealth he has acquired, so he tears up the book and returns to the road. He meets the Devil again and manages to get his violin back, together with the lost freedom, when he plays cards with his adversary. Thanks to the violin, the soldier can heal the king’s daughter and marry her. Hence, happiness is still possible; but the Devil is always there, reminding the soldier that no man can have everything. When the longing will lead the soldier toward the past, back home, the Devil will be waiting for him. So, behind the sad tale of the soldier, we can catch a glimpse of the bitter human fate, the inevitable and painful outcome of the mismatched fight everyone is called to face against destiny.