THE SOLDIER’S TALE by IGOR STRAVINSKY (DVD)
Adapted from Russian folk-lore by the Swiss author, Ramuz, The Soldier’s Tale was conceived as a stage presentation in collaboration with Stravinsky, who provided for it some of his best-loved and most brilliant music. Since its first performance in 1919, it has become a classic.
Needing no scenery, a tiny cast and an orchestra of seven, the simplicity and charm of its story have captivated audiences throughout the world. The Soldier’s Tale is a morality fable in which the Devil appears in different guises. For the film there was only one person known to the producers with the right combination of acting, dancing and miming talents – Robert Helpmann.
Helpmann plays seven of the Devil’s roles with the relish one would expect of him. The eighth role, that of a black dog, is played by a black dog! Brian Phelan, a talented young Irish actor, is seen as the gullible soldier who sells his soul, in the form of a violin, to the Devil, while Svetlana Beriosova, at the time a leading ballerina from the Royal Ballet, appears in her first film role as the Princess.
The story is set in no particular time or place, and locations had to be found which gave a sense of timelessness. Inhabitants of some of the oldest and quietest spots in England were surprised to find actors, dancers and film cameras on their village greens. By contrast, much of the filming took place in the most spectacular ‘stately homes’ of the land.
Stravinsky’s virtuoso score is played by the Melos Ensemble, comprising leading soloists, and conducted by Derek Hudson. The film was produced by Leonard Cassini, a concert pianist in his own right, and Dennis Miller, who also photographed in Technicolor. The director, Michael Birkett, made a new adaptation of the work for the screen, attempting to preserve all the simplicity and spontaneity of the original whilst reinterpreting it through the magic of cinema.
The Devil: Robert Helpmann
The Soldier: Brian Phelan
The Princess: Svetlana Beriosova
The Narrator: Derek Godfrey
Music performed by:
Score played by: Melos Ensemble
Conducted by: Derek Hudson
Solo Violin: Emanuel Hurwitz
Director: Michael Birkett
Producers: Leonard Cassini & Dennis Miller
Produced by British Home Entertainment Ltd in association with The Royal Shakespeare Company and Columbia Broadcasting System of USA