ORONO – It’s a story as old as humanity: the eagerness to trade the good things we have for what we think will surely be better.
Composer Igor Stravinsky captured that age-old theme in “L’Histoire du Soldat” (The Soldier’s Tale), and Oct. 27–29, the University of Maine School of Performing Arts will bring it to the Cyrus Pavilion stage.
Performances featuring three student actors and a seven-member faculty ensemble will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27–28 and2 p.m. Oct. 29.
Stravinsky wrote “L’Histoire du Soldat” in 1917 after he fled the Russian Revolution. He collaborated with Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz to create an innovative performance that was small enough to tour towns and villages. The piece premiered in 1918 in Switzerland.
For their text, the collaborators found inspiration in a Russian folktale, “The Runaway Soldier and the Devil,” based on a story by Faust.
In Stravinsky’s version, a soldier returning from World War I encounters the devil, who offers him a magical book that foretells the future (and, thus, unlimited wealth and power) in exchange for the soldier’s fiddle.
The soldier soon learns that money isn’t enough, and he redeems himself by playing his fiddle to heal an ailing princess. But once again, he is tempted by the devil, seeking this time to trade the love and home he has found for his mother’s approval.
Stravinsky set the stage for modern, nontraditional ensembles, says Philip Edelman, UMaine assistant professor of music education, who will be conducting the UMaine work.
“It was new to have this particular assortment of instruments (clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, violin, double bass and percussion) performing with actors and dancers, and other composers followed Stravinsky’s lead in writing for nontraditional ensembles,” says Edelman.
“The piece is also very complex. A tango in the middle is intricately manipulated to become a waltz and then ragtime, so that just when you think you get a musical groove, something changes dramatically. There are moments of intense beauty, and raucous, crazy moments when the whole world is shaking.”
The complex work presents a unique challenge for its student actors and dancers, says Beth Wiemann, chair of UMaine’s Music Division and a member of the ensemble.
“The students are onstage a lot, and it will be very intense for them,” she says. “It’s just the three of them, and they have to put this story across while live musicians are playing and they’re following a conductor.”
“L’Histoire du Soldat” features highly structured poetic rhyming verse, which demands clear pronunciation, articulation and projection.
The actors also have to dance and perform multiple roles, says director Tom Mikotowicz, a UMaine professor of theatre.
“And if they forget a line, they have to ad lib in rhyme. So it’s very educational for the students, since they do things they don’t normally get to do,” Mikotowicz says.
Edelman says the work is an opportunity for UMaine music students to see an ensemble of faculty members — their teachers and mentors — perform a particularly complex piece.
“It will give our students a chance to see why technical performance skills aren’t enough,” Edelman says.
“My conducting students will be included in my preparation process, and I hope they have an aha moment, where they realize why it is important to have a firm grasp of all of their course material — from music history to theory, to what they are learning in their applied studies — in order to perform something this complex. As musicians, we’re excited to do this.”
Tickets are $12 and may be purchased online at tickets.vendini.com. For more information or to arrange a disability accommodation, call 207-581-4703.