The Devilish Temptation of The Soldier’s Tale - Western Canada Theatre

By James MacDonald, Artistic Director, WCT

When Dina Gilbert and Daniel Mills of the Kamloops Symphony approached me about collaborating on a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, a devil’s temptation could not have been more appealing. Here was an opportunity not only to work with the marvellous KSO—and on a project perfect for these unconventional times—but it will be the first time in my four years at WCT that I’ve performed on a Kamloops stage. It’s about time! I started as an actor and usually balance my directing, teaching, and theatre administration career with regular bouts onstage – including playing Scrooge for six years in the Citadel Theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol.

The Story Behind the Story

The more I delve into The Soldier’s Tale, the more fascinated I am by both the story itself and the story behind its creation. L’Histoire du Soldat (as it is in its original French) was written over a hundred years ago, amidst the carnage of World War I, by a refugee cut off from his home and money by revolution and turmoil. When Stravinsky’s remarkable piece was finally toured, performances were cancelled due to a new pandemic sweeping the world, spread by soldiers returning home from the battlefields of Europe to all parts of the globe. The Spanish Flu eventually infected one-third of the world’s population, killing up to 50 million people.

The story of The Soldier’s Tale—the devil tempting a returning soldier to trade his violin (aka his soul) for riches—was both a contemporary reflection of the many million veterans struggling to re-enter society and a timeless commentary on the lure of material gain at the cost of one’s true gifts. Adapting this dark, haunting Faustian story from a Russian tale, Stravinsky, with Swiss poet C.F. Ramuz, created a new and thoroughly modern work: a small theatre piece that was meant to be read, played and danced.

A Timeless Story

Former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold’s once wrote “… a work of great art sets its own standard of integrity and remains a continuous reminder of what should be achieved in everything.” The Soldier’s Tale sets such a standard. Remaining startlingly fresh to each new generation, it has been performed and recorded throughout the past century by a remarkably wide range of performers, some of whom might surprise you: Jean Cocteau, Peter Ustinov, John Gielgud, Ian McKellen, Sting, Vanessa Redgrave (who played the Devil), Frank Zappa, Roger Waters, Gérard Depardieu, and Jeremy Irons, to name just a few.

WCT and KSO Together Again

It’s been six years since the last collaboration between WCT and the KSO with Fiddler on the Roof. I am tremendously excited to play a part in coming together again to bring this unique and timely tale to life, specifically for Kamloops audiences. We hope and trust that there will be many more fruitful partnerships between our companies. We have already begun discussions about bringing back full orchestration to one of our upcoming musicals—something to look forward to when we are back in the theatre, where we all belong.