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April 6   -   Guardian

The Soldier's Tale review – City of London Sinfonia make Stravinsky's devilish piece too well mannered

Village Underground, London Despite the efforts of Simon Russell Beale and Janet Suzman, this concert performance lacked theatricality and felt too comfortable

Inclusiveness is a major part of the artistic mission of the City of London Sinfonia, who take their performances into communities and venues around Britain that are outside the regular circuit of concert halls. That brought the orchestra, or seven of its members, at least, to Village Underground in Shoreditch, east London, for the final event of its current season: a performance of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale with Simon Russell Beale as narrator, Ivanno Jeremiah as the Soldier and Janet Suzman as the Devil.

Suzman was credited as director of the show, too, though this seemed to be a straight concert performance of a piece that Stravinsky and his librettist CF Ramuz devised to be “read, played and danced”. Intended as a cheap, easily portable dramatic reworking of Afanasyev’s Russian folk story, The Soldier’s Tale is effectively music theatre in kit form; a text-linked sequence of self-contained musical numbers and dramatic tableaux that can accommodate a whole range of interpretations, depending on the budget. It showed that music drama did not need to come with all the expensive trappings of opera, and it became hugely influential later in the 20th century. It was one of the models, alongside Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, for the composers of the 1960s and 70s who were looking to invent a new, stripped-down form of music theatre.

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