Fiendishly Good Fun

The Devil (Alton Thompson) and Soldier (Yi-An Chen) play cards to determine the soldier's fate in
The Soldier's Tale by Igor Stravinsky. The production by conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin event was the work's premier at the National Taiwan Normal University. (Photo by Melody Hsiao)

I had a rollicking good time in The Soldier's Tale Sunday night. Playing the archetypal villain helps, of course. You don't have to concern yourself much with your character's arc. You just take each scene as a new opportunity to torment your prey while making everyone in the room want to slap you. It's easy enough work for anyone who grew up with siblings.

I was delighted to learn that this production, produced by conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin, was actually the premier of the work at the university. From the outset Ms Lin brought ideas to the piece that made her Soldier's Tale a true ensemble work, for the actors as for the instrumentalists. Each character, like each player, had his or her moment. This wasn't one of those shows that one actor steals while the rest of the cast acts as foils. To begin with, no one steals anything from talented actress Yi-An Chen. The violin major at NTNU played the title role with zest and ginger, which is pretty much how she does everything else, too. Kris Falk used his Narrator spot as a springboard to create a kaleidoscopic array of distinct characters. Cipher Kao's images, in both publicity and on stage, drew knowing inspiration from Stravinsky's neo-classic priorities, including his savvy humour.

The high point of the show was exactly where it should be but often isn't: the ballet depicting the rendezvous of the Soldier and his bride. The scene was danced imaginatively by Yi-An Chen with Mr Ta-Wei Wang as the Princess. To have both Soldier and Princess played by actors of the opposite sex makes a playfully novel effect, but as the Soldier and Princess danced, this casting paid off in the increased sense of intimacy that develops between the two characters. Not only do they meet and get acquainted, but they inhabit each other's personas.

All of us in the cast are also musicians. We often remarked to each other in rehearsal that we were noticing details in Stravinsky's music in a new way. His music frequently alludes to some aspect of the setting or of a character, or to physical action. The references leap at you when you are involved in the work dramatically.

I was delighted to see friends there, like my classmates from the NTNU Mandarin Training Center and language exchanges who came. My sweetheart, Melody, got lots of good pictures for us and did us the favour of acting a bit part at the same time.

Congratulations to the company, especially to conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin and her adviser Apo Hsu. Great fun. And a distinct honour. Thank you.


Conductor's Notebook

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