Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
L'histoire du soldat (1918)
Nederlands Dans Theater
Sound Format PCM Stereo
Picture Format 4:3, 1080i (upscaled)
Narration in French
Subtitles: English and German
ARTHAUS MUSIK Blu-ray 108134 [51.00]
Stravinsky's plan for The Soldier's Tale was for a performance involving seven instrumentalists, three actors, the Soldier, the Devil, the Narrator, and one dancer, the Princess. It was, recalled Stravinsky, performed on a platform about the size of two armchairs.
The Netherlands Dance Theatre have been more generous with their space in this choreographed version for seven solo dancers and a corps de ballet. Choreography is by Jiří Kylián. There are no actors and the French narration is overdubbed and subtitled for just English- and German- speaking audiences. The music is played 'straight' with one or two sound-effects and a handful of additional visual effects beyond a filmed staging. One suspects Stravinsky would have accepted the logic of this, though since he was notoriously critical of other people's efforts, he would probably have disapproved. For viewing at home this makes for a diverting and enjoyable fifty minutes. The plain staging has minimal props. The dancers are lithe and fluent in their movements as one has come to expect from the Netherlands Dance Theatre. The costumes are appropriate to the plot. The Princess is suitably alluring and the Devil is appropriately devilish. The instrumentalists are first class and play this marvellous score accurately and beautifully.
The sound and video have been mixed in post production so that no stage noise is present. At about 36 years old this all looks and sounds rather primitive. The sound is OK but nowhere near modern standards. The video, in 4:3 format, looks not to have been transferred from film but digitised and upscaled to HD from analogue video tape. Fringing is visible throughout if viewed on a large screen. The gap between this and a modern production is emphasised by the preceding trailer for a modern ballet production in beautifully clear high-definition video and sound. It might have been wiser to trail another old archive issue that did not bring the age of the main film to the viewers' attention so forcefully.
An interesting performance from the archive but I suspect purchasers of Blu-ray issues at full price expect something more modern and also expect more than 50 minutes of content. At least they could have added another Stravinsky ballet or archive concert. How about Renard or Les Noces? The booklet's anonymous but interesting essay provides the background, the plot and Stravinsky's biography.