Long Beach Opera Announces AN AMERICAN SOLDIER'S TALE and A FIDDLER'S TALE, 5/4
Long Beach Opera's offbeat double bill provides two iconic American takes on Igor Stravinsky's whimsical, neoclassical theater piece L'Histoire du Soldat. Composed in 1918, Stravinsky's original score was set to Ferdinand Ramuz's version of a Russian folktale about a soldier in pursuit of a princess and a treasure who is conned by the Devil.
In An American Soldier's Tale, author and pacifist Kurt Vonnegut wryly reimagines the Russian folktale into the vexing World War II true story of Private Eddie Slovik. In January 1945, Slovik became the first American soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War. Wynton Marsalis' companion piece, A Fiddler's Tale, reinterprets Stravinsky's score through the lens of American jazz and spins The Soldier's Tale into a Faustian yarn about a young, upstart musician who strikes up a deal with record producer Bubba Z. Beals and bites off more than she can chew.
Brimming with foxtrots, rags, marches and a healthy dose of Dixieland jazz, LBO's devilish duo of sinister parables will take place May 4 and 10, 2014 at the Center Theater in downtown Long Beach.
Previously at LBO, David Schweizer directed the critically acclaimed Elegy for Young Lovers, The Indian Queen, Powder Her Face, Motezuma and most recently, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
Schweizer says, "I'm thrilled to be back directing at LBO, which is always more stimulating, more challenging and more rewarding than anywhere else in the country or abroad and this upcoming production is one of the reasons why! Stravinsky and Marsalis share a musical palette while their librettists, Kurt Vonnegut and Stanley Crouch, go wildly and surprisingly off in fascinating different directions, creating pieces full of surprise and wonder. Vonnegut and Crouch are true American originals as writers, very different but sharing a spirit of provocation and intensified poetic investigation. I never thought I would ever get to direct works by each of them on a double bill, but then, this is LBO."
Schweizer enthusiastically comments, "In both pieces, stage actors are working with music rather than opera singers and the combination of heightened spoken word performance and music is going to create an exceptionally exciting atmosphere for me, for the amazing performers themselves and, I am sure, for the audience as well."
An American Soldier's Tale was commissioned by the New York Philomusica and premiered in 1993. Years earlier, Vonnegut had refused to narrate the original Stravinsky work. "The story is about a soldier carrying a violin-you know, soldiers get rained on, and a violin wouldn't have a chance, and so I thought it was just preposterous, and was somewhat troubled that this thing was premiered in 1918, during the most horrible war for soldiers in history." Thirty years later, while attending a party at New York editor-actor-journalist George Plimpton's residence, Vonnegut was recounting how much he disliked the narration for L'Histoire du Soldat to Robert Johnson, NY Philomusica artistic director. Plimpton jumped in and said, "Oh, yeah? Why don't you write a good one?" (Anecdote from New York Magazine interview).
Kurt Vonnegut's libretto for Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat is a dramatic account of the 1945 shooting of Private Eddie Slovik. Of the 40,000 American deserters during World War II, Slovik was the only one executed for going AWOL. Vonnegut called his re-invention of the work, a "real down-and-dirty soldier's story." (Susan Farrell's Companion to Vonnegut) Due to its coarse language, An American Soldier's Tale might be the only classical recording ever released with a Parental Advisory warning.
Although Vonnegut did away with original text, he left Stravinsky's 1918 score untouched. The music looks both forward and backward in style. In L'Histoire du Soldat, there can be found early indications of the composer's return to the musical structures prolific in the 17th and 18th centuries (Lutheran chorale, waltz, air) and the impending neoclassical renaissance which followed the end of World War I. At the same time, the score clearly shows Stravinsky's interest in newer conventions, including the use of polyrhythms, musical parody and jazz structures (foxtrot, blues scale).
A Fiddler's Tale was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a joint project of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center and premiered on April 23, 1998 at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Marsalis responded to L'Histoire du Soldat by composing a companion piece that utilizes the same structure and instrumentation as Stravinsky's and the same Faustian slant as the Ramuz libretto.
"I have loved [A Soldier's Tale] since first hearing it as a 15 year old," confesses Marsalis. His reworking of the score, he says, "demonstrates the kinship between Stravinsky's harmonic and rhythmic language and the language of modern jazz with a New Orleans accent." (Fresh Sounds Records)
Marsalis has served as managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) since its 1987 inception and has been a champion of the old guard jazz idioms in both his programming at JALC and within his own compositions. "If Marsalis has found a strong musical identity, it is...as a composer of large-scale works that take in aspects of bop, swing, New Orleans jazz, blues, and gospel, while also ranging into areas of the most dissonant avant-garde art music..." (New Grove Dictionary of Jazz).
The creative team includes Conductor: Kristof van Grysperre; Stage Director: David Schweizer; Set Designer: Danila Korogodsky; Lighting Designer: Sara Nishida; Sound Designer: Bob Christian.
The cast of An American Soldier's Tale includes Private Eddie Slovik: Kevin Reich; General: Tony Abatemarco; Military Policeman: Mark Bringelson.
The cast of A Fiddler's Tale includes Narrator: Roger Guenveur Smith; Fiddler: Beatrice Connors; Devil: Bubba Z Beals; Uncle Bud: Savior.
Performances are set for Sunday May 4 at 7:00 pm and Saturday May 10 at 2:00 pm at Center Theater, 300 E Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA. 90802. Pre-opera talks take place one hour before each performance. Tickets are $29 - $160 and are available from the LBO Box Office at 562-432-5934 or at www.longbeachopera.org/tickets. Group discounts can be purchased through the LBO Box Office. Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. The shows are sung in English with English supertitles.