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Music and Dance Reviews : ‘A Soldier’s Tale’

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With the Devil drawing the hapless Soldier to Hell, the Glendale Chamber Orchestra at last achieved an effective dramatic moment in its staged production of Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale,” Saturday in Glendale High School auditorium.

Otherwise, though Christopher Fazzi led a musically tart and stylish performance, one experienced disappointment with the static, unimaginative, characterless approach taken toward this comparatively rarely staged theater work, which is often heard in the concert hall.

Principal actors and musicians were in separate areas on the stage, which were spotlit only during those moments in which the people were participating. Action, such as it was, was mostly confined to an underutilized mime (Lynn McMurrey), who crouched behind the centrally placed actor-Devil (Leonard De Grassi), gestured toward the soldier (Paul Mayo) on a separate riser at the far right, and occasionally pantomimed other elements of the nursery-rhyme translation.

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All this might not have made any difference if the actors had shown any verbal flair. But Linda Stirling-Nibley made a bland narrator. Mayo seemed to confuse dullness for simplicity and innocence. And De Grassi was not particularly cajoling, sardonic or threatening.

Admittedly, use of amplification for the actors (but not for the instrumentalists) accentuated the disembodied, dislocated sense of the proceedings from the audience’s point of view and helped make it seem as if the actors were poorly relating to each other.

Musically, the performance had pith and clarity, though rhythms occasionally were timid, ensemble playing was not always cohesive and the narrator at times overpowered. Members of the septet included the especially stylish Roy D’Antonio, clarinet; Charles Coker, bassoon; Malcolm McNab, trumpet; Loren Marsteller, trombone; Karen Ervin, percussion; the suavely capable Bruce Dukov, violin, and Robert Stahl, string bass.

Stage direction and lighting design (bold colors on a cyclorama) were credited as a collaborative effort to conductor Fazzi and the actors.

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