Tonight, after a triumphant regional tour, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields' extraordinary version of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale will come full-circle by returning to the theatre where it first became a hit two years ago. With violinist Anthony Marwood still officiating as the soldier, and with an ensemble now beefed up by the addition of trumpeter Alison Balsom, it will be perfectly attuned to the scale and atmosphere of Wilton's endearingly beaten-up old space.
This work has been subjected to countless transformations one London group transposed it to Iraq to comment on the Bush-Blair invasion yet it always emerges band-box fresh. Stravinsky wrote it in his Swiss exile during the First World War, while he worried about his wife's health and grieved over the death of his governess and brother; drawing on Russian folk tales, and collaborating with exiled Russian dancers, he wanted to create something which would resonate with the angst-ridden times.
It's a latter-day version of Faust, whose hero is a soldier-violinist trying to make his way home after the war. He meets the Devil and offers his violin in exchange for a magic book that will make him rich: what he has actually done is sell his soul, and he is condemned to follow the Devil for ever. It was designed as a music-drama with narration and dancers, and that is how Marwood and co present it.
"Like every violinist," he says, "I got to know and love this piece, and it occurred to me early on that there was a logic in having a soldier-violinist." How does it feel to dance, speak, and play simultaneously? "Knackering, but quite natural. I try not to divide myself I try to make it one seamless thing. You react to the other actors, as you do with other musicians in chamber music."
How has the show changed since it began? "It's developed it's got darker. There's a fine balance between its sombre message and its Russian fairy-tale quality, and the sombreness is now stronger."
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