When Stravinsky collaborated with the novelist Ramuz on the stage piece "L'Histoire du Soldat," they agreed that the music should be available also as an independent suite. The success of this undertaking can be gauged by the more than half a century of audiences who know "L'Histoire" only as a work for seven instruments.

Unheralded though it was, therefore, the 20th Century Consort's fully staged performance of this work at the Smithsonian last night was a major artisitc event.

Directed by Arena Stage's David Chambers, the soldier (Sydney Miller) and the devil (John Towey), stalked each other through a veritable forest of scrims upon which were projected magical scenes of fancy enchantment.

Narrator Robert Murch, ensconced in his tower of omniscience, related the tale through an amplifying system that, too loud and too dry, was the only jarring note in an otherwise sensational performance.

The Consort, under the direction of Christopher Kendall, played with just the right, seemingly contradictory combination of precision and insouciance, and the difficult coordination of all the forces was smoothly handled.

The excitement generated by this event, both in prospect and in fact, all but eclipsed the lovely performance by soprano Lucy Shelton and instrumentalists of Crumb's for books of Madrigals, which, on another program, would have been a major event of their own.